Metrolink takes noisy BNSF locomotives off-track

If the horns from trains passing through Claremont seem a tad quieter than usual, it’s due to a main culprit being taken off the tracks.

Locomotives from the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe (BNSF) railroad—the big, orange engines that have been a fixture in front of Metrolink trains for the better part of the year—have officially been taken off the line, the city announced last week.

The locomotives have been taken off the tracks as of November 1, Metrolink spokesperson Gina Mack confirmed.

While this can be seen as a positive development in Claremont’s quest for a quiet zone, the reactions from those living near the tracks have been mixed, according to Traffic and Transportation Commissioner Zachary Courser.

“There may be subjective notion that the train noise is slightly less,” he said. “I still think it’s a nuisance, and I think the community still feels that way.”

The engines were attached to the commuter trains as a safety precaution following a 2015 fatal accident in Oxnard, according to Metrolink. But an unintended consequence occurred—the engines had a louder train horn fixed higher on the engine for maximum distance, which caused a loud and irritating noise problem for Claremonters living near the tracks.

The problem became so bad that an ad hoc committee—of which Mr. Courser is a member—was established to look into the feasibility of creating a quiet zone through Claremont.

The situation has gone national as well. Mayor Sam Pedroza and City Manager Tony Ramos met with officials from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) in September to look into a possible revision of the Federal Train Horn Rule.

The council entered into a contract with City of Industry-based JMDiaz in September to look into the feasibility of implementing a quiet zone in the city. The study should take three months to complete.

“I think the City of Claremont has had some progress not only here in the community, and I think they are beginning to reach out to other cities through the [San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments] and other cities to share the concerns about quiet zones,” Mr. Courser said.

Ms. Mack said the new “Tier 4” engines—which are supposed to be safer and more energy efficient than previous engines—would eventually replace the locomotives. While the BNSF engines had a loud “five-chime” horn placed higher on the engine for maximum distance, the Tier 4 locomotives will have a “three-chime” horn placed lower on the engine for travelling through communities.

“[The Tier 4 locomotives] expected to operate in late 2016, and some of them are going to arrive in 2017,” Ms. Mack said.

But state-of-the-art locomotives or not, Claremont is still continuing their journey to eliminate train noise through town once and for all. It is a problem that has existed long before the big, orange locomotives were first placed on the tracks, Mr. Courser said.

“I think the BNSF change helped to create a spark that something finally needed to be done,” he added.

Matthew Bramlett


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