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Union Pacific freight train horns now causing concern
December 10, 2009, 03:36 AM By Bill Silverfarb

Those in the community who cried out and succeeded in challenging Caltrain to quiet its once nerve-rattling horns have turned their attention to a new foe — Union Pacific freight trains.

Apparently the late-night freight train engineers have been laying on the horns a little too heavy, according to complainers, but Union Pacific insists it is not true.

Even state Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, said the horns seem louder to him. The city of Burlingame tried in vain to contact the freight company about its horns but never got a call back, Hill said.

The assemblyman, who resides in San Mateo close to the tracks, was able to get Union Pacific to agree to have a meeting with elected officials and city staff from South San Francisco, Burlingame and San Mateo.

Hill was able to convince UP to allow the Federal Railroad Administration to make an inquiry into the train noise. Union Pacific trains are equipped with sound monitoring devices that collect information around the train on 24 hour cycles, said UP spokesman Wes Lujan.

Burlingame Councilwoman Ann Keighran is pleased that UP opened itself up to the inquiry. The city has added a section to its Web site that will allow residents to log complaints at specific times so UP can analyze the incidences to see if there are any trends in the data, Lujan said.

Keighran admitted there was an increased awareness in the community to horn noise after Caltrain moved them from the bottom to the top of train engines back in June and had to take up the issue with UP because many of her constituents had made complaints. She was curious that perhaps a new engineer was operating the train at night and might be utilizing the horn in a different manner.

It took Caltrain months to solve its problem.

UP runs two trains a night on the Peninsula. One of the trains operates five days a week and the other six days a week, Lujan said.

"We will do our due diligence,” Lujan said. "We are responding but we operate consistent with federal horn rules.”

People on the Peninsula might see the horns as a nuisance, Lujan said, but UP sees the horns as a safety device.

"We stand by safety,” Lujan said.

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

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