New train warning system to reduce noise in San Clemente

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A new warning system will make for quieter evenings as trains pass through San Clemente.

San Clemente is a getaway for 2.5 million visitors a year, providing a relaxing, laid-back seaside community, until the startling blare of a train horn sounds.

Residents and visitors hear train horns day and night as 45 passenger and freight trains pass through the south Orange County city every day at seven beach-trail crossings stretching more than 2 miles.

"It's pretty shocking to be running on the beach trail and you hear it," said San Clemente resident Katie Marshall.

"It gets loud and shaky", added resident Lori Thompson.

"I've seen kids have issues with the sound, have full blown episodes because of the train," San Clemente resident Stephany Rose said.

A federal rule went into effect a decade ago requiring trains to sound their horns routinely at public railroad crossings.

For hotels like the Sea Horse Resorts, which is steps away from beach and the railroad tracks, the owners have to warn guests.

"We have a picture of the train on our website and then if anyone asks about noise or the train we do let them know that it does go by often and through the night," said Alba McKinley, co-owner of Sea Horse Resorts.

But soon, the loud train horns will be replaced by an electronic simulated horn hidden in stone pillars next to the railroad crossing.

The simulated horn is not as loud - 80 decibels instead of 112 decibels.

"It's lower to the ground, it's directed so it doesn't spread out in all directions like from the top of a train," said Tom Bonigut, Deputy Public Works Director for the City of San Clemente.

The system was approved by the Federal Railroad Administration after the city got other safety measures in place. The cost of $5 million was mostly paid for by the Orange County Transportation Authority.

Officials said warning gates, bells and flashing lights would go off in addition to the simulated horn as a train passes through.

"However, the train operator always has the discretion to use the train horn if they feel there is a safety issue," Bonigut said.

Starting at midnight on June 24, visitors and residents should notice the difference when the new system begins.

"This is definitely a big deal for all residents and visitors," said San Clemente Mayor Bob Baker, crediting residents for getting the changes made. "Their letters and suggestions about the train horns is what got this process started."

Baker said he, personally, received 100 complaints about the train horns over the years.

"It's just the possibility of having a good night's sleep," said McKinley, as she talks about the new simulated horn. "Not having to jump every time a huge freight train goes through or a regular commuter train is great. We've been waiting for this for years."
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