Federal Railroad Administration Stops Adhering To Quiet Hours Following Failed Inspection Of City Of San Diego's Railway Crossings

January 18, 2024

Following failed inspections of downtown San Diego's railway crossings, the Federal Railroad Administration is requiring all trains to blow horns at downtown crossings, regardless of usual quiet hours. 

Residents in downtown San Diego and Little Italy have reported being awakened from their slumber throughout the night and early morning after the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) yesterday ordered that all trains now blow their horns at almost a dozen grade crossings. The FRA determined all the train and trolley crossings from 5th Street to Laurel Street in downtown are unsafe.  

"On background, our agency temporarily suspended the quiet zone in San Diego because our railroad safety specialists have found a pattern of non-compliance with federal quiet zone safety rules over the past year," explained an FRA Office of Public Affairs representative. "As a result, the railroads operating through this quiet zone have resumed sounding their horns until the City of San Diego remediates the issues that our inspectors have identified."

A representative from San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria's office confirmed that the city failed inspections of certain downtown train crossings. The mayor's office claims to have only been made aware of this today after learning that the FRA had temporarily suspended quiet zones, but we have received information that the FRA sent Gloria's office a letter about the issue as early as July 2023. San Diego is currently not up to code to maintain such quiet zones, so all trains will sound their horns regardless of time of day. 

FRA requires that local governments implement supplementary safety measures at a quiet zone to compensate for the lack of a train horn warning. The temporary suspension of downtown San Diego's quiet zone will end once the city has adequately implemented and documented the required supplementary safety measures, and FRA is working closely with city officials to facilitate this process. 

"I would not characterize the affected crossings as 'unsafe,'" continued the FRA Public Affairs rep. "Rather, train horns have resumed sounding to ensure an acceptable level of safety while the city addresses the issues that FRA identified with its supplementary safety measures. While FRA recognizes that train horn noise can be disruptive and inconvenient to local residents, we have taken this measure to prevent avoidable grade crossing injuries and deaths."

After observing motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic, the crossing's active warning systems, and other safety requirements for the crossing, FRA safety inspectors found the follwing issues: Not every public crossing within the quiet zone had the required supplementary safety measures; Not all crossings were in compliance with the requirements on highway-rail grade crossings established by the California Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (CA MUTCD); and Paperwork documenting grade crossing inventories and safety devices was incomplete. These issues are not exhaustive of what the FRA inspectors found and are a general picture of the issues involved.
A man was truck by a Coaster train in downtown San Diego and died last week, which was one of four deaths by train reported in San Diego County in a five day span. This past Monday, a man was hit and killed by an Amtrak train in Carsbad. Another man was fatally struck by a BNSF freight train in Encinitas over the weekend and another man was killed in Sorrento Valley last Thursday. There is no confirmation whether these deaths were a reason for the FRA's actions. 

For more information and additional resources on this issue, visit the FRA's Train Horn Rule and Quiet Zones webpage.