Town Square

Post a New Topic

Train horn noise

Original post made by kamala, Greenmeadow, on Dec 29, 2012

We recently moved to Palo Alto, we live 1200 ft away from rail tracks. On most nights, we wake up because of extremely loud train horns. We initially thought it was caltrain, however it looks like caltrain fixed the issue way back in 2009. So the noise seems to be coming from freight trains which run between 12 AM and 5 AM. After a bit of research on the internet, it looks like Union Pacific already rejected an appeal submitted by the residents of San Mateo, so appealing to Union Pacific seems like a lost cause. Appeals for "quiet zone" seems to be lost under the noise of high speed rail.

Any survival strategies is much appreciated, I would hate to move out of this area.

Comments (84)

Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 29, 2012 at 11:56 am

Did you not notice the train tracks when you were thinking about moving in?

Posted by Resident
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Triple pane windows

Posted by clanging bells
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Dec 29, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Move to Belmont, San Carlos. They had the good sense to raise their tracks. No crossings = no whistles.

Also no gates and clanging bells.

Not cheap, and a real bear for a couple years during construction but a FAR better daily quality of life.

Posted by kamala
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 29, 2012 at 12:55 pm

Yes, we did notice the rail tracks. We moved from monta loma (which is as close to rail tracks as Green Meadow is). At monta loma, train horn was never an issue, for whatever reason! May be the Mayfield buildings absorb most of the sound

Posted by G
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 29, 2012 at 3:26 pm

Does someone know why Palo Alto hasn't put up Four Quadrant gates which lets Palo Alto become a Quiet Zone, and thus end horn noise woes?

It is in fact very hard to avoid the union pacific train horn in Palo Alto given how "by the side of the tracks" Palo Alt is. UP uses MUCH louder horns than Caltrain:

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by Too late
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2012 at 4:13 pm

G--well you would have to do an EIR, the city would have to hire consultants to look at it, it would have to go through the palo alto process etc. also, it would have to be put it up for public discussion and the usual council watchdogs would object. Or maybe the gates are considered historic and could not be replaced. So the HRb would have to be involved. Then the ARB and P&T commission would have to weigh in to make sure the new structures would be aesthetically pleasing. All in all we are talking about 10 years before anything could be done and then only if the council would be able make a decision without being afraid of upsetting anyone

Posted by Southie
a resident of South of Midtown
on Dec 29, 2012 at 8:32 pm

Most of the rail crossings in northern Palo Alto are grade separated, so there is no horn noise. The noise is mostly a southern Palo Alto issue and the city government pays far less attention to southern Palo Alto. You are welcome to request these changes, but don't expect much.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2012 at 1:34 pm

We had the same problem. The tracks were not visible, as the bushes obscured them pretty well, at that time. Nor was it disclosed to us. We found out the first night!

You can go after the previous owner if they did not disclose this to you, as we should have done. They are in violation of the law in that case and must return your down payment and take the house back. If that isn't the case, install sound insulation and sound deadening windows, as we did. Worth every penny.

BTW, 1-3 mile one-mile long freight trains run through here every night.

Posted by Best Wishes
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2012 at 3:04 pm

So sorry to hear this. A good thing to do before purchasing a house is to talk to the neighbors, especially if there is something questionable such as train noise. You can still talk to the neighbors for their opinions and recommendations on how they deal with it.

@Clanging Bells: Belmont and San Carlos don't have the intellectuals that live in Palo Alto; it's more of the sales/marketing crowd. We looked into moving to Belmont and are glad we did not. [Portion removed by Palo Alto Online staff.]

Posted by Kamala
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 30, 2012 at 3:47 pm

Hi Anonymous,

Could you please share the type of windows/window installation company you used.?

Seems like we might be going the same route, i.e. install sound proof windows.


Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Heavy draperies in the bedrooms will also help, also keep the rooms dark which aids deep sleep. If you are in deeper sleep, you are less likely to be disturbed by the noise you want to ignore rather than alarm clocks which you want to hear. Your body gets acclimatised to the noises you want to hear (alarm clocks, crying babies, etc.)

Posted by Hmmm
a resident of East Palo Alto
on Dec 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm

Kamala, fwiw, I vividly recall a couple of kids from grade school having problems being woken up by the trains late at night. The parents did install windows, I think more than double-paned & for awhile the kids wore earplugs & both solutions greatly helped. One difficulty I recall is that the home had sliding glass doors & very large windows in some of the larger rooms, so I think they only replaced bedroom windows.

I sympathize - I hope that window replacement does the trick for you. Having family in colder parts of Europe, they've commented before how loud things are here because of the lack of better windows, among other improved construction.

Posted by whooooo
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 30, 2012 at 4:54 pm

You could easily buy a house that's 1/4 mile from the tracks without noticing. It's not as if your house backs on to the tracks! Also note that at night, you can hear the trains from the far side of 101. An owner is not required to disclose this, any more than the owner needs to tell you that you're 1/2 mile from a freeway or near a busy street or a school. All this information is public and readily accessible. Before you spend $2mm on a house, it behooves you to do some research. (I'm not directing these comments at the OP, by the way, but at some of the more inane responses.)

I personally like the train noise!

Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Dec 30, 2012 at 6:32 pm

I live about 1.5 miles from the tracks, and I'm always surprised how loud the horns are. For a long time I thought there must be a rail spur somewhere east of 101.

Posted by Wayne Martin
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 30, 2012 at 7:42 pm

> Does someone know why Palo Alto hasn't put up Four Quadrant gates
> which lets Palo Alto become a Quiet Zone, and thus end horn noise
> woes?

There was some talk about this several years ago. There might have even been some sort of CMR/Staff Report that was making the rounds, but nothing ever happened. Because Caltrain is multi-jurisdictional, and that means "Multi-CYA", it's very difficult to get local jurisdictions to actually talk about, or do anything meaningful, in terms of train/track safety.

Within the last few months, some warning lights have been added to the crossing at East Meadow that warn motorists that a train is coming and that they should not make a right turn until the train has passed. Not clear who installed these lights, or who paid for them, but even these almost insignificant improvements probably took a lot of wrangling in order to gain the necessary approvals.

The HSR has also made a mess of any near/intermediate-term planning for Caltrain, although with the money that has been authorized for the electrification boondoggle, at least funding won't be the main source of foot dragging in the future.

Posted by real estate disclosures
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2012 at 8:51 pm

I believe noticeable, close noise(trains, horns, gates, whatever) from a railroad DOES need to be disclosed when a CA homeowner is filling out the disclosure forms to sell a home. It is a material thing of note.
In a previous city, when we sold our home, we were told by our agent to "over-disclose" by noting the home was near a high school (NOT even backing up to it - but a couple of streets away) and that there might be noise from it at times, though we had not had any issues and we did note that also. It was the truth.

Posted by Bruce
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 30, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Since Mr. Arriaga seems to be good at fast-tracking and speeding the usual approval processes, maybe he could get UP to tone it down...?

Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2012 at 10:20 pm

I really do not think windows make such a big difference in sound. They do make a difference, but the price per window and installation costs is very steep these days - especially if you get triple-glaze. Furthermore a lot of older Palo Alto construction is hardly as good as windows to stop sound, so if your windows stopped 100% of the sound you would still get sound through your walls and vibrations through your floor.

A long time ago when I was a student I lived by the tracks in Mountain View. I would occasionally wake up feeling like a train was rolling through my bed. Thank God I don't live there anymore ... but others do. I don't know why they have to build a lot of homes right by the railroad tracks, it just seems cruel, and doubly so at Palo Alto prices.

But not only is there noise from the railroad tracks, there is the noise from 101 and then there is the noise of airplanes that fly too low. Too bad we do not take noise more seriously, we should.

Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 30, 2012 at 10:25 pm

Also, I'm no lawyer or expert but I think trying to take legal action about noise not being disclosed is futile. That is one of those things that any reasonable person would think it is up to the buyer to investigate and would only be a technicality on the part of a seller to complain when due diligence would have disclosed railroad noise.

Posted by pat
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 30, 2012 at 11:30 pm

> "I don't know why they have to build a lot of homes right by the railroad tracks, ..."

It's called transit-oriented development and is one of the area's top trends. Web Link

Lots of people don't seem to mind living near the tracks: Palo Alto Central near California Ave., The Crossings in Mountain View, several buildings on Alma.

Posted by maybe?
a resident of another community
on Dec 31, 2012 at 12:17 am

Can anyone compare the current train noise situation to the situation few years ago?
Working in Palo alto, then, very close to the track, I have noticed that the horns seemed to be by far more strong and noticeable after the train tragedies. That was during the day - regular work hours. The change was very apparent to me. I thought, then, that I could totally identify with those operating the train, pushing the horns.

Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 31, 2012 at 5:50 am

I'm in Midtown and we hear the trains, traffic noise from 101 (two miles from 101) and concerts at Shoreline. Doesn't bother us at all - beats gunshots as in some communities.......

Posted by ac
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Dec 31, 2012 at 7:48 am

You can consider running an airpurifier to create some white noise when you sleep.

Posted by Phil
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Dec 31, 2012 at 8:34 am

We live in Roosevelt Circle and hear the train horns clearly. They don't really bother us.

What bothers us is the number of child suicides at the East Charleston and East Meadow crossings over the last few years. Elevate the trains. Lower the trains. Build a bridge. Build a tunnel. Raise our taxes to truly address the problem,-- we don't mind. But, please, find a way to fix that.

Posted by emily smith
a resident of Downtown North
on Dec 31, 2012 at 9:23 am

I used to live on Emerson and Hawthorne - so, it was a 1 minute walk for me to get to the train station, and the train noise never bothered me. I lived in a super old house and slept with the windows open all the time. You learn to just get used to it.

Even at my parents house, near Hillview Middle School in Menlo Park, I could hear the train horn, if you listened closely. It's not that big of a deal!

I mean, how can you even think about complaining, when you SAW the train tracks near your home?

Posted by There-Are-No-Train-Noises-On-The-Moon
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2012 at 9:47 am

> Can someone compare the train noise to a few years ago?

That's going to be hard, since there haven't been any efforts by any of the cities to actually measure this noise, as some of them have done dealing with the San Francisco Airport (SFO).

Sound carries a great distance at night, so noise measurements, or comparisons, would need to be done at different times of the day, to be meaningful. And a well-designed comparison of noise differences over time would need to take into consideration the number of trains per hour/per day, and at what times of the day these trains pass. Use of the line between 1200 and 0600 would need some attention.

And then there is the matter of train accidents at at-grade crossings. The DoT issued rules in 2005 that were to be applied nationally:

Web Link

The following is a somewhat long, but interesting review of many of the issues:

Web Link

Wonder how many of the candidates for the recent City Election had anything to say about the issues associated with Palo Alto and train noise?

If the noises become unbearable--moving seems to be the obvious next option. For those taking that path, be sure to spend some time in the neighborhoods you are thinking of moving to at night, to see what kind of noise you will have to put up with in your new home.

Posted by Jorge
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 31, 2012 at 10:37 am

Phil is right, grade separations are the best, and probably only long term solution. Tunnel, trench, overpass, underpass, what ever form, grade separations eliminate the need for horns, bells, gates, etc. Combined with fewer traffic (auto, bike, pedestrian) blockages to accommodate ever increasing train traffic, grade separations are a no brainer. Of course, grade separations cost. Our feeble "leaders" in Sacramento had no problems finding billions for a miniscule down payment for the High Speed train to nowhere, Jerry's legacy, but can't find funds for something so mundane and unglamorous, but ever so needed as grade separations along the Caltrain corridor.

Care to comment Hill or Gordon?

Posted by pete
a resident of Crescent Park
on Dec 31, 2012 at 10:51 am

Every freight train wakes me up. I cannot get an uninterrupted nights sleep. Particularly in summer when we have to have the windows open.
The only hope I think is to install airconditioning and keep the house sealed which is not very green, and install triple pain windows. For 2 million dollars you would hope to get peace and quiet but the noise extends to the other side of middlefield and then you get the 101 noise.

Posted by train neighbor
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 31, 2012 at 11:10 am

We live very close to the tracks and the trains rarely bother me; however, some of the night freight trains do blast their horns excessively loud --- certainly louder than the late-evening Caltrains. Given that the intent is only to warn those nearing the tracks, am not sure what purpose excessive volume serves. Can't they make adjustments?

Posted by Paula
a resident of Midtown
on Dec 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm

Some companies have policies regarding how loud and long horns are blown. For example, CSX is supposed to be 3 short blasts when approaching a crossing. Find out UP's policy and report the driver. You have to complain directly to the company. I recorded a CXS train (in another city) that laid on the horn all the way thru town at 2 AM. Inexcusable and rediclous at that time. Just like Union Pacific.

Posted by G
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 31, 2012 at 2:04 pm

UP explicitly told the city of San Mateo that they intend to use the horns at the highest level allowed by federal law and for the longest duration allowed by the federal law:

Web Link

Web Link

It even looks like they told a state assemblyman to go away when he complained to UP. AFAICT, San Mateo just gave up and did what was required by the FRA to make UP not blow the horns in San Mateo. BTW, Menlo Park is doing the same, so is Atherton now.

As to complaining about train noise in PA, see this:

Web Link

If UP indeed insists on blowing the horn at 110dB, all of Palo Alto will pretty much get >60 dB noise, because pretty much all of palo alto is within 1.5 miles of the tracks. Given the housing price here, it's a shame that we can't do something about this - either eliminate grade crossings or do the other stuff required by FRA to make it a quiet zone.

Posted by KK
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 31, 2012 at 2:38 pm

The cheapest option is to get the city to close the 3 grade crossings at night (churchill, meadow, charlston). There are easily accessible detours from these 3 grade crossings (embarcadero, oregon, san antonio) and this will let Palo Alto be a Partial Quiet Zone from 10PM-7AM. This should be dead simple to do, right? What do people think?

Web Link

Posted by Keep Crossings Open
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2012 at 3:14 pm

Sorry, KK, but I don't think that makes sense. The morning commute starts before seven, and people count on being able to cross at those intersections.

Posted by Joe
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2012 at 3:46 pm

> close the 3 at-grade crossings ..

This isn't really a good idea at all. The town is already split sort of North/South by Oregon Expressway. It is also split East/West by the tracks, but only marginally so. Shutting down the crossings would make it very difficult for people on bicycles to get to El Camino if they are on-foot, or bicycles, shoudl they live on the East side of the tracks. Closing down the East/West access would almost be a declaration of Palo Alto's becoming a gated community, since we are disallowing non-residents to use our streets, effectively.

The cost of a grade separation starts at/about $40M. Given that houses abutt the current crossings, there would no doubt have to be some homes taken--and then there is the "ugly factor", which will send all the people who tend to complain about everything into orbit.

This issue has been a political hot potatoe for decades. It would almost be cheaper to try to find a way to pay for people's sound insolation in their homes, rather than solve the problem with concrete on the tracks.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Dec 31, 2012 at 3:51 pm

We might be getting somewhere with the idea of overnight closure of crossings, but I think that 11.00pm - 5.00 am might be more realistic.

While we are at it, I would like to see some of the traffic lights around town turn to flashing red for the same overnight hours. I have on occasions had to drive around town either late at night or early morning and having to stop and wait for some of these lights to change when I am the only vehicle around makes very little sense to me. Some of these waits can be much longer at night than they are during the day - no idea why!

Posted by KK
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Dec 31, 2012 at 8:06 pm

I believe the night time quiet zone (partial quiet zone rule) applies only to traffic. We'll need to read thru the FRA goop to make sure, though.

Or, as Resident said, maybe 10-5AM?

Sound insulation pretty much will not work. I have researched that to death - it is very difficult to reduce the noise inside the house by more than 20dB vs the outside, if not actually impossible. Regardless of insulation & dualpane windows, there are all sorts of caulking breakdowns, fireplace openings, code-mandated bathroom fan openings, and kitchen hoods that lets sound in. 20 dB simply does not cut it, if you're within half mile of the tracks (which is probably a very significant chunk of palo alto) - the horn noise is likely 70-75 dB in that area, and 55 dB is pretty much like someone speaking in your bedroom while you're asleep:)

Posted by Marielena aka "Tired of Palo Alto Negatude"
a resident of Palo Verde
on Dec 31, 2012 at 9:58 pm

I agree with Phil 100% let's look at that issue...I also suspect...that if I were a CALTRAIN or any other train operator and had to go through an area that had been sooooooo predisposed to child suicides......I would honk that horn to High heaven if it might mean that I would save a life or change a child's life..... For my money? it is just the train operators, protecting themselves from trauma and hopefully getting the kids to change their minds.....perhaps someone should simply ASK THEM... nicely of course...

Posted by jaz
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 1, 2013 at 8:57 am

Lowering the tracks would cost a fortune and have to be funded by the city or private companies. How unfair. Trains come from Redwood city blasting their horns then disappear just to keep the Palo Alto residents quiet!

A better idea are those big walls like they have in Atherton for the traffic or up near 101. But that doesnt solve the crossing noise problem.

I hate the ding ding ding and the huge horn noise. I prefer the drone of 101 which at least doesnt wake me up and interrupt my sleep.

30 years ago this was a wonderful quiet town full of clever inventors. Now its a rat race of noise, congestion and stressed out kids trying to be like their over-achieving parents but falling short.

Posted by JZ
a resident of Adobe-Meadow
on Jan 1, 2013 at 8:59 am

Not clear horns at grade crossings have anything to do with preventing suicide. Why would that person not walk over to the san antonio station and lie down in front of the tracks? Or take the small hop from an overpass down to the tracks at oregon? Or, in fact, there are any number of ways to kill oneself, triains are not the only means.

I agree child suicide is an issue. But one should look at the pressure put on kids so that we can solve the root cause. I doubt that having trains honk to high heaven is a surefire way of preventing child suicide in palo alto.

Posted by jaz
a resident of Embarcadero Oaks/Leland
on Jan 1, 2013 at 9:00 am

And Marlena,

You are right about the suicides and the Cal-train drivers. Apparently the drivers had PTSD after a suicide. It destroys some of them for good and they cannot drive their trains any more. Its absolutely terrible for all. However I dont think that closing the tracks would make a difference to the number, maybe just the method. Suicides are a mental health issue. It is only through improved mental health, detection, prevention, cure that they can be avoided.

Posted by KK
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 1, 2013 at 9:03 am

Actually, the walls seem like a great idea too. It does not fix it, but it sure reduces noise. The walls on bayshore cut traffic noise down by 2-3 times, easily.

Posted by G
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 1, 2013 at 9:11 am

One could actually argue that train horns contribute to child suicides. See posting above, "Posted by Hmmm, a resident of East Palo Alto, on Dec 30, 2012 at 4:45 pm".

If a kid keeps waking up at night because of noise, this is a surefire way to get lower grades, add to stress and make the kid upset with life in a very bad way.

Posted by Nick Baldo
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 1, 2013 at 10:24 am

I love the train noise, to the extent that I notice it at all. Usually I never do. This coming from someone who has lived next to train tracks my whole life, and directly adjacent to tracks a couple of times. It makes me feel like I live in a real place with a real economy and not the glorified retirement home that this area seems like sometimes.

Eventually, maybe 20 years, maybe 40, the whole right of way will be grade separated and the horns will go silent, but until then this is the way things are gonna be. Freight trains have been running here since 1863, and some everyone who's ever lived here since has done so either directly or indirectly because of the train.

If you want to speed up the grade separation process, tell peninsula politicians to stop their lockstep opposition to high-speed rail and just work on ways to facilitate planning for grade separations. The grade separation process can go relatively quickly if this happens, otherwise it will drag on for generations.

The fact that some people here could buy a zillion dollar home without knowing that there is a storied, active rail right of way (with pretty darn good service!) is astonishing. I hope your family figures something out.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 1, 2013 at 10:33 am

It is required by CA law that all detractions in a home or neighborhood be listed in the disclosures when selling a home. If a homeowner does not list these, and they are found out after closing, the homeowner is legally liable. Also, a good real estate agent should point out detractions.

We were not aware at the time, being new to the area, that our agents did not know the area, either. They should have counseled us not to buy a property close to Alma, close to the tracks, or in the first two blocks of a street off Alma ( or with a shared driveway, for that matter). But we were young and inexperienced in these matters, and stupidly trusted two smooth talking agents.

It truly is a case of caveat emptor, but still, you do have legal venues. They have a statute of limitations, so act fast.. We did not find out soon enough.

Posted by Anonymous
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 1, 2013 at 10:38 am

Many years ago, when Mr Fazzino was mayor, I sat in on a couple of City Council meetings to ask about a sound wall along the tracks, like Atherton has.

It fell on deaf ears.

So I am stuck with a house, though nice, that I cannot sell, even at a bargain basement price.

I hope others learn from my mistakes!

Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 1, 2013 at 10:51 am

Come on Anonymous, after all, someone sold it to you.

Posted by laura
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 1, 2013 at 11:01 am

This was a big issue when we moved here in the 70's. Obviously nothing has been done about it and UP, Caltrain and Palo Alto are not interested in a remedy or solution.

Posted by real estate disclosures
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 1, 2013 at 1:16 pm

Someone mentioned installing walls as a way to reduce train-related noise. I am not so sure - if you think back to when HIghway 85 was finally completed and opened, there were a lot of issues about noise off the soundwalls - I remember major concern, for example, in the nicer residential areas, like Mountain View near Mountain View High School. The noise might be minimized for the home right behind the wall then bounce to affect someone else - something of this nature.
Normally we would think the farther one's home is from the train tracks, the better, but the situation could be altered for some if large soundwalls were put in. They would probably be too ugly for Palo Alto anyway.

Posted by nac
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 1, 2013 at 4:36 pm

Loewen Tranquility windows. Available from the Loewen dealer on San Antonio road, Hartwood Windows and Doors. They are double pained with extra thick glass and a huge air gap - more effective than triple panes, which offer little noise reduction over 2 panes. If you have masonry or stucco siding, then you're done. If not, and you have lightweight siding or still loud noise through walls, you can apply an extra layer of sheetrock with Green Glue sound isolation compound in the sandwich.

We live on a busy street Middlefield and with this stuff, the cars are basically not audible at all.

Posted by washington irving
a resident of Los Altos Hills
on Jan 1, 2013 at 5:22 pm

If I may, a funny story from when we were house-hunting. We saw this lovely
house couple blocks from the train tracks near california ave. station. I
was somewhat worried about the train noise, so I wandered off to the
neighbor's house to talk to the gentleman doing some yard work outside
about the train noise.

We're looking at the house next door, how's the
train noise here, I asked. He smiled at me. Not bad at all, he said, you
hardly notice it. How about at night, when the freight train goes through?
No problem at all, he said, I hardly notice it. Really? I wondered. How
come, aren't those really noisy? Oh, not a problem at all, he said. I've
got ear plugs, I put them in my ears, and then I don't hear a thing...

Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 1, 2013 at 6:59 pm

I have lived 1/4 mile from the tracks in Palo Alto since the 50's. I almost never notice the trains. The only time I hear them is when I chose to listen for them. Now if you can fix that little dog that barks all the time I would be happy. If the noise really bothers you give the UP a 500 million dollar bond to cover the lawsuit that they would get after someone is hit by the quieter train you want. The person who would sue is probably one of the ones complaining about the noise.

Posted by Kamala
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 1, 2013 at 7:14 pm

Nac, this is wonderful advice. Thank you. I have never seen a window with an STC rating of 40, but that iis what these guys claim! I have a few more questions for you, would it be possible for you to email me? My email is venkitac at yahoo dot com. Would appreciate it if you could contact me. Thanks and happy new year!

Posted by Frank
a resident of another community
on Jan 1, 2013 at 8:03 pm

In my locale we have train tracks a block and a half away. I inquired about this when I purchased my home eight years ago. At that time a train would pass by only on Mondays at a very slow rate of speed. Now it's twice a day, at faster speeds, with horns blaring due to a new elementary school having being built along the tracks. Gee, I wonder why there are so many for sale signs along the street adjacent to the tracks.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 1, 2013 at 10:01 pm

Hi kamala,

We live off Alma across the street from the train tracks. When we first moved here, we were shocked by the noise and rumble created by the train (particularly during the night). You literally feel the ground shake from the train! If you're watching TV or listening to music/radio, it is often drowned out by the noise.

I spoke with neighbors to find out what they do to stop it. They all had the same answer: Get used to it.

Over time, we have grown somewhat used to it. However, when family and friends have come to visit us, it wakes them out of deep sleep! My visiting mother-in-law jumped out of her bed thinking it was an earthquake!

After we had double pane windows installed, there was little (if any) noticeable difference. However, we did notice a difference after the attic was modified with better insulation. Also, a good bed helps you not "feel" the shaking when the train goes racing by.

As for the horns: We also felt that the frequency and noise level of the horns increased following the suicides over the last couple of years. We can't say if this was a coincidence in our noticing it, but several neighbors seemed to have noticed the same thing. The freight trains are, by far, the loudest and produce the greatest about of "shaking."

Interesting: I visited a town in Texas that had some sort of short "wall" (or fence) along both sides of the tracks that ran through the center of a town. It seemed like there was something other than bricks or regular concrete on the track-side of those walls. I suspect that this was some sort of attempt to lessen the noise pollution from the trains. I did notice at the time that the train wasn't nearly as loud as one would expect. Perhaps this is what others have mentioned?

I suppose that the sound is not nearly as noticeable if you live further away from the tracks. Ambient "white" noise might help, as would other collective techniques. Most importantly, we have grown used to it. Unfortunately, it is still a bother to us at times -- especially during the night or when the freight train goes by.

Good luck, kamala!

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 1, 2013 at 10:22 pm

Re: Train track fences, noise abatement and seismic issues...

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Web Link

Posted by Louise1968
a resident of Menlo Park
on Jan 2, 2013 at 12:07 am

I really feel for those who cannot sleep properly or who cannot even carry on a normal-tone conversation because of the noise from the trains nearby. I also really feel deeply sorry for the poor engineers who operate those trains, and who, sometimes, cannot help but hit someone. That can scar a that engineer for life. I don't blame them if they sound the horn longer than residents might like.

One problem no one has yet mentioned is that in newer locomotives, the horn control is sometimes a simple button. The engineer cannot control how loud the horn is. All he or she can control is how long the horn is on.

And closing crossings overnight would cause safety problems for people who need emergency response vehicles to be able to quickly get from one side the the tracks to the other side. What if the person was east of the tracks and needed to go to Stanford Hospital?

I, personally, don't think that the horns really need to be all that loud, but there are federal regulations that require a certain decibel level. (I hope that is not so that people driving/riding in cars with all windows up and very, very loud music playing can hear train horns over all that noise!!)

I wish all of you well in finding a really good solution to this problem. (Moving is a rather drastic solution!)

Posted by AllYouCanEat
a resident of Mountain View
on Jan 2, 2013 at 9:36 am

They walk among us!

Posted by Grade separation
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 2, 2013 at 11:02 am

We need grade separation. Trench the train!

Posted by el duderino
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 2, 2013 at 11:22 am

I livd a half block from the train tracks for almost 20 years. I didnt hear any train horns after the 1st month. You must give it time or be a really light sleeper (earplugs might be good for you).

Posted by Hate freight trains
a resident of Fairmeadow
on Jan 2, 2013 at 12:14 pm

Any time the issue of train whistles pops up, it is immediately projected as a way to prevent child suicides. Agreed, train horns could scare off a potential victim. However, if some one is really bent on ending his/her life, they can easily find other painless ways to do it.

I really wish we would address the root cause of child suicides - (the rat race at our schools may be ?), rather than making life hell for the rest of us.

Posted by We hear them, too
a resident of South of Midtown
on Jan 2, 2013 at 1:32 pm

We are not too close to the tracks (maybe a quarter-mile away) but I hear the big freight trains coming through at 2 am or so, and I am surprised at how loud they are even from a distance. It's more of an issue in the summer, when we must have our windows open (we have no A/C), but I've found that an ordinary, inexpensive small fan helps a lot by producing white noise. (It also helps with other annoying noises at night such as loud mockingbirds or motorcycles roaring past.) I run a fan year-round at night in my bedroom, although I turn the fan away from the bed during the cold months.

Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 2, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Those who try to tell us that they live near the train
yet hear no noise are only fooling themselves.

I've lived near the train and to pretend one does not
hear the noise is wrong, you hear the noise, you cannot
avoid it, but you are so used to it that after it wakes you
up you go back to sleep.

What this means is that you do not realize that that you
are getting your deepest sleep interrupted and the quality
of your sleep is not as good. There is actually a lot of
noise in Palo Alto these days, trains, and airplanes as

Try staying up some night and you will realize that there
are many planes that fly over this areas very low and
create a lot of noise. The noise from planes starts low
and then builds up and then goes away again. This means
the same thing in terms of your sleep. Something wakes
you us, by the time you become conscious it is gone so
you go back to sleep not realizing you have had your sleep
interrupted ... and that makes a difference.

These ought to be things that we can do something about,
but when people who have bought into Palo Alto have to
talk publicly about their "investment" and train or other noise,
most of them will not say anything negative about it, it just
goes against most people's nature and makes them feel

Posted by Long time resident
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 2, 2013 at 3:27 pm

Anon, My wife and I do not recall seeing your in our bedroom. I find your INSITES most remarkable. You know things about myself that I never knew. I have been monitored for sleep apnea for a while and I do not wake up for the freight train and I do get REM sleep. The machine must be wrong I guess. It is not pretending that I do not notice train noise a 1/4 mile away. The noise that has always been there is not important enough for my mind to pay any attention to it. If it is important to you do something about it but please do make the rest of us pay for it.

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 2, 2013 at 4:47 pm

@ Long time resident:

I can't speak for Anon, but not everyone lives 1/4 mile away from the tracks. There are many homes and apartment complexes located just across the street from the tracks.

I have been awake at night when the train went by. It DOES take my husband from a deep sleep. He fidgets in bed, adjusts and then goes back to sleep. He is probably unaware of what happened in the morning because we are so accustomed to it.

Last week, a handful of Palo Alto residents were complaining about pollutants in the air (and the resulting smell) from fireplaces that burn wood. I wonder if those same people care about the immense noise pollution from the heavy trains (and horns) that rumble by several times each hour or at two o'clock in the morning.

Don't get me wrong: I am not complaining about the train. However, I can sympathize with those of us who live near the tracks and endure the noise and shaking every day. I did get used to it. However, it is jarring for many, many residents and visitors. You may be able to sleep through it. However, some might live a little closer in homes or apartments that aren't quite as sheltered as your own.

The original poster simply asked if anything can be done about it. I think that there are a number of things that CAN be done about it, but probably won't because they are either cost-prohibitive or do not bother enough residents to merit further consideration.

Still, I would invite you to visit a house or apartment closer to the tracks. Try watching a football game or Downton Abbey when a train goes blaring by and see if you need to turn up the volume.

Of course, for us, it goes with living where we live. It isn't just the train, but the speeders racing by on Alma St (particularly work trucks), fire truck sirens, police sirens and perpetual road/pipeline construction. We endure it because it is the most affordable place for us to live. It is probably the most affordable place (in part) because of the noise.

Until we can afford to live elsewhere, we will endure it! We've grown used to it. However, it takes some time. I wish kamala (the original poster) the best of luck!

Posted by kamala
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 2, 2013 at 5:19 pm

Thank you Nayeli for your kind words. This forum has been quite helpful, got lots of useful tips. Thanks everyone! From what it looks like, neither City of Palo Alto nor Union Pacific is going to lift a finger to make our lives any better.

We are planning to install dual pane windows, install cement siding, plus use ear plugs (after buying a house for $2M !) As another poster pointed out, it still will not eliminate train horn sound completely. Train horn outside our house measures around 72dB, to bring it down to 45-50 dB seems like a mammoth task.

We were living in montaloma neighborhood before. When we decided to purchase a house in Green Meadow, we overlooked the presence of Mayfield buildings (which is like a huge block of cement between rail tracks and the houses). That's the mistake we made. If soundproofing the house does not work, we will have no option but to move out as and when money/time permits. It's such a shame. Green Meadow is such a beautiful neighborhood (I am sure every neighborhood in PA is), with tightly knit community!

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Jan 2, 2013 at 6:51 pm

This is truly shocking, noise? In the middle of a big city?

Yes I know Palo Altans pride themselves on the "small town feel", but whether they like it or not, they're part of one of the largest metro areas in the country. If you don't want noise I would suggest moving to a small town or rural area, though if you did you wouldn't be able to appreciate the benefits offered by living here. You can't really have it both ways.

Posted by just a comment
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 2, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Studies show that access to the means is a big part of whether people who have suicide ideation try or succeed. Anytime you make someone have to take time to think when they are having such feelings, it's a chance to reach them before they do something they can't take back. So the suggestions of undergrounding the trains, aside from improved aesthetics and traffic, would eliminate at least that access.

Posted by ODB
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm

The tracks have been there for about 150 years and there are thousands of homes within 1200 feet of the tracks up and down the peninsula that hear the same train horns, so how do they deal with it? How did the previous occupants deal with it? When I grew up in P.A. in the '50s and '60s we lived maybe half the 1200-foot distance from the tracks and we got used to it (of course in those days we didn't have kids throwing themselves in front of trains, either). Perhaps the O.P. is the victim of some weird acoustical phenomenon?

Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 2, 2013 at 9:10 pm

> Long time resident, a resident of the Greenmeadow neighborhood
> Anon, My wife and I do not recall seeing your in our bedroom.

We're careful not to wake you up, and she tod me you are a heavy sleeper! ;-) Happy New Year!

Seriously, I am talking about when I used to go to college and lived right off Rengstorf Park on the tracks. Not only noise, but but vibration as well. It was a rental so I was not so concerned, but for the amount of money that Palo Alto real estate is worth I am surprised you do not care about yourself, or your wife, or your neighbors wanting to raise the quality of life. I guess you are the type that as long as you are not bothered by it, it doesn't exist.

I'm not expert on Palo Alto real estate except for my own place, but I don't notice any kind of gradient in value as one gets closer to the tracks, so those who buy close to the track are paying extra for noise.

Posted by Anon.
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 2, 2013 at 9:16 pm

By the way, in the past people's had even less expectation that they could do anything about it than today. In every other town in the US houses next to train tracks cost less because of the noise, but not here because of the lack of housing.

I'm lucky to live about midway between the train tracks and 101 so I don't get much noise.

The exception is this time of year, when the air is cold and dense and the train honks at just the right time it still can wake me up, but not often.

Just because something has always been done does not mean that it should always be accepted or that nothing should be done about it. Every time anyone says anything there are always a bunch of people who jump on here and poo poo it, call them names, whiners, super-sensitive, etc. If there is one person they are more likely many who have this problem.

I wonder if Steve Jobs ever heard the train and what he thought about it? His place was not that far from the tracks I don't think?

Posted by PA Resident
a resident of Community Center
on Jan 2, 2013 at 10:14 pm

Kamala, you might consider laminated glass for your windows, rather than dual pane. They are specifically designed for reducing noise and vibration. You could also consider some soundproofed sheetrock for the rooms near the train. Might not be too expensive.

Good luck!

Posted by Nayeli
a resident of Midtown
on Jan 2, 2013 at 10:36 pm

@ ODB:

I suspect that today's trains might be just a bit heavier, longer and louder than the trains that ran through Palo Alto during the 1950s. Of course, I might be wrong.

However, I did see a photograph of the train tracks circa WW2. The photograph showed quite a few trees on the east side of the tracks and just across Alma Street that are no longer present. The photo seemed to indicate that Alma Street was a two-lane road at the time. Perhaps those trees helped create a natural sound barrier in the past?

Posted by bru
a resident of Crescent Park
on Jan 3, 2013 at 1:02 am

bru is a registered user.

I saw a You-Tube video on sound-deadening sheetrock ... according to the general contractor in the video, it worked very well, but it was expensive ... about $100 a piece, and it has to be installed expertly ... and you have to be very careful not to put holes in it or ruin its integrity. It was really fascinating. The sheetrock has some kind of bi-metallic sheet in it that when sound travels through it converts some percentage of the sound to heat - pretty brilliant idea. The product is called QuietRock.

Posted by near the tracks
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Jan 3, 2013 at 3:24 am

I am up at 3am because of a 2:30am repair/whatever and the police say they can do nothing "CalTrain is exempt."
This seems to happen, along with just plain super-loud horns -- at least several nights a week.

What is it going to take to make things livable? Is it really a federal law that a train horn has to be 97+ decibals when 90 sustained is enough to cause permanent ear damage? I don't believe it.

Dear CalTrain -- do any of you live along the tracks? Are you deaf yet?

Posted by G
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 3, 2013 at 8:51 am

Near thetracks, see above - it is in fact union pacific blowing at 110db, not caltrain at 96db. UP increased the noise level in the last 3 years, they have not been doing this froever.

Robert, No one is complaining about city noises, but a freight train blowing its whistle at 2 am six days a night, which it started doing only recently, is altogether different.

As nayela said, we do need to take noise pollution seriously. I dont see why this issue is any less seriously than green energy or controlling air pollution.

Posted by G
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 3, 2013 at 8:52 am

And yeah, the up freight train runs six days a week iirc.

Posted by G
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 3, 2013 at 8:55 am

Sorry for spam. Yes, fedral law say train hrns must be between 96db and 110db. Up intentionally keeps it at the highestpossible level and will not budge.

Really, we should try for a wall or partial quiet zone or full quiet zone with four quadrant gates. Eliminating grade crossings is a good solution only for people who believe in rebirth. It aint happening in my lifetime.

Posted by kamala
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 3, 2013 at 11:00 am


Thanks for the suggestion. We already have quiet rock on the walls, unfortunately that doesn't seem to fix the issue. 110 dB (that's the level set by Union Pacific - the upper limit per Federal regulations)is way too loud.

Posted by moo
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Jan 3, 2013 at 12:30 pm

Get a simple plug-in mechanical white noise machine. It's basically a small enclosed fan, about 6 inches in diameter by 4 inches tall. Walk into any therapist's office waiting room and you'll see the one I mean!

Posted by Palo Parent
a resident of Greenmeadow
on Jan 3, 2013 at 12:46 pm

Cheaper and easier: find a free white noise app or buy one for 99 cents from iTunes and play either off of your smart phone with a speaker base.

Posted by Joseph E. Davis
a resident of Woodside
on Jan 3, 2013 at 1:09 pm

The good news is that your house was cheaper because of the proximity of the train. The bad news is that you're subject to the whims of the federal government regarding getting the noise lowered - good luck with that.

Posted by Katie
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Oct 14, 2014 at 12:45 pm

I live far enough away from the train tracks that I shouldnt be hearing the train. Yet, this past month (october 2014) Cal Train has started up a horn contest, it seems, where their conductors LOVE to BLAST their horns. Even in the dead of night, you'll hear it every 20 minutes. And in the morning especially around 7 am, there will be multiple times where someone is BLASTING the horn.


Posted by Advice, not an ad
a resident of Palo Alto High School
on Oct 14, 2014 at 1:49 pm

You need more than just double-paned windows. And not all double-paned windows are the same quality. I think they can also add film to the window for more soundproofing. Find a window business that manufactures windows, not just a business that installs windows that they purchase. Eichler Solutions sells the ceiling-to-floor windows for Eichlers and they sell windows for people who live next to train tracks. The owner was formerly the manager of a window manufacturing company.

a resident of another community
on Jun 22, 2016 at 4:51 pm

Around the Los Angeles Airport flight path noise, some residents were given free double pane windows. A recent study shows living in plane flight paths increase high blood pressure and heart attacks and strokes. In most L A freeways systems, the state paid for noise walls. Why is it you think the railroads seem to be exempt from laws that protect the taxpayer, rather the laws protect the railroad as if it was GOD. Union Pacific for example always states it wants to protect its employees from harm. It use to be railroads treated their employees with contempt. Let them have their horns in the day and switch to flood lights mounted to front and sides of lead locomotive at night that no one would miss, unless your blind, but same could be said if you were deaf if it were horns, just to cover all bases. Most car and train collisions or even peds are because regardless of horns or gates they did what they wanted to do and paid the reeper. You cannot stop stupid people. According to the railroad, we should drive thru green lights with are hands on the horn to protect our selves from drivers who do what they want. How would the people who run the railroad and congress like it if people drove down the streets they live on with their hands on the horn, just in case someone at 2 or 3 or 4 in the morning decides they want to jump in front of your car because that is what is happening here. A lot of BS

Don't miss out on the discussion!
Sign up to be notified of new comments on this topic.


Post a comment

Sorry, but further commenting on this topic has been closed.

Stay informed.

Get the day's top headlines from Palo Alto Online sent to your inbox in the Express newsletter.

Holiday Fun in San Francisco- Take the Walking Tour for An Evening of Sparkle!
By Laura Stec | 8 comments | 3,428 views

Boichik Bagels is opening its newest – and largest – location in Santa Clara this week
By The Peninsula Foodist | 0 comments | 2,334 views

I Do I Don't: How to build a better marriage Ch. 1, page 1
By Chandrama Anderson | 0 comments | 1,418 views


Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund

For the last 30 years, the Palo Alto Weekly Holiday Fund has given away almost $10 million to local nonprofits serving children and families. 100% of the funds go directly to local programs. It’s a great way to ensure your charitable donations are working at home.