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BILL HART, San Clemente
I applaud Fred Swegles for his excellent reporting on the rail corridor. For more than 80 years, a rough trail existed alongside San Clemente’s railroad corridor. In some places, the trail was impassable, so pedestrians walked on the railroad tracks.
Beachgoers crossed to the beach at any convenient location, and several popular crossing points existed at neighborhood trailheads. As both population and rail traffic increased throughout the ’90s, rail operators began enforcement actions.
Toward the end of the ’90s, the city and a group of concerned citizens agreed to improve the safety of the rail corridor. I was one of those concerned citizens. The San Clemente Beach Trail took shape, featuring gated crossings designed specifically for pedestrians.
No good deed goes unpunished. At nearly the same time as the Beach Trail was being completed, the Federal Railway Administration introduced new rules for train horns and quiet zones.
The FRA rules contained a remarkable omission for quiet zones. They failed to recognize that human life exists outside of automobiles. Decibel requirements for trackside warning systems were designed to be heard inside a noise-proofed car.
This volume level is completely inappropriate for pedestrians standing just feet away. In the 15 years since the rule was adopted, the FRA has failed to correct its oversight, an unfortunate example of bureaucratic inertia.
In response to the constant blaring of train horns throughout our city, city officials and citizen volunteers fought for several years with the FRA to establish a more sensible solution involving a pedestrian-friendly trackside warning system (PAWS).
Presented with a sensible pedestrian solution, the FRA might have incorporated that into its regulations. Instead, FRA regards it as a red-haired stepchild that requires a waiver that must be renewed every five years.
The waiver is a Band-Aid. We must encourage the FRA to come to its senses. San Clemente has clearly demonstrated a measured increase in safety along its rail corridor. The FRA must consider correcting its error by adopting a proven solution for pedestrian crossings.