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Caltrain tweaking its 'toots' and 'tweets'
July 29, 2009, 12:00 AM By Bill Silverfarb, Daily Journal Staff
It's not just you -- Caltrain's horns are indeed louder and the transit agency is working hard to tweak its "toots" and "tweets" to bring the noise level down and keep in line with federal law at the same time.

Federal regulations require the horns to produce distinct, separate and sequential blasts and a recent safety inspection revealed the horns were not making the unique "toot" and "tweet."

Caltrain received numerous calls to its customer service center with complaints about the horns, said spokeswoman Christine Dunn.

"I even received a personal call from a mother who said her son was awakened by the horn in the night," Dunn said.

Caltrain moved the horns to the underside of locomotives and cab cars in response to previous complaints from the community.

But since the powerful air horns weren't making the distinctive "toots" and "tweets" the horns have returned to their original location on top of the trains.

Burlingame resident Lynn Hawthorne said her entire neighborhood has noticed the louder horns.

"It's just terrible. The horns got much louder. I live two blocks from the track but it feels like I'm living on the tracks when the train passes," Hawthorne said. "I've got double-pane windows but I might as well not have windows at all."

Moving the horns to the top of the locomotives and cab cars has increased the volume and the range of the sound.

"We are working diligently to reduce the problem," Dunn said. "There is no knob to turn the volume down on these air horns."

Caltrain is working to reduce the volume, while making sure that the horns remain within the range established by the Federal Railroad Administration.

"We have to balance neighborhood concerns against the need for safety," Caltrain Deputy CEO Chuck Harvey said in a statement. "It is important for people to remember that the engineers do not sound the horn gratuitously. They sound the horn to save lives and to comply with FRA requirements. We ask for the public's patience while we attempt to adjust the horns."

Caltrain engineers are required to sound the horn a quarter mile before every grade crossing, Dunn said and there are 44 crossings between San Francisco and San Jose.

Grade-separated crossings, as proposed by high-speed rail, would eliminate the need for engineers to sound the horn. Caltrain has entered into an agreement with the California High-Speed Rail Authority to bring the service along the Caltrain corridor.

Bill Silverfarb can be reached by e-mail: or by phone: (650) 344-5200 ext. 106.

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