So the Peninsula is having a hard time making up its mind - do they dislike above-grade tracks more than they dislike the loud horns that are an inherent part of at-grade passenger rail?
It’s not just you — Caltrain’s horns are indeed louder and the transit agency is working hard to tweak its “toots” and “tweets” to bring the noise level down and keep in line with federal law at the same time.
Federal regulations require the horns to produce distinct, separate and sequential blasts and a recent safety inspection revealed the horns were not making the unique “toot” and “tweet.”...
Caltrain moved the horns to the underside of locomotives and cab cars in response to previous complaints from the community.
But since the powerful air horns weren’t making the distinctive “toots” and “tweets” the horns have returned to their original location on top of the trains.
I can see why this would rile up the neighbors. The train horns are already pretty loud, as we demonstrated back in May:
And here's one of many videos of above-grade HSR, in this case an AVE trainset in Catalonia:
Which one would you rather live next to? I found it instructive that in this video, the barking dog was louder and more persistent than the passing train. Sure, sure, the dog was probably closer to the videocamera than the train, but that would be the experience of most residents along the corridor, who will live closer to passing cars, barking dogs, teenagers blasting loud music, etc, than they'd live to a far quieter train structure that is grade separated using electric trainsets.
The horns are clearly getting noticed:
Burlingame resident Lynn Hawthorne said her entire neighborhood has noticed the louder horns.
“It’s just terrible. The horns got much louder. I live two blocks from the track but it feels like I’m living on the tracks when the train passes,” Hawthorne said. “I’ve got double-pane windows but I might as well not have windows at all.”
You just don't hear this from people living next to above-grade high speed tracks. HSR trains aren't silent, and we're not claiming they are. But neither are they anything close to this loud. It's instead an occasional "woosh" that won't sound appreciably louder than the truck that just rumbled down my street here in Monterey.
Which brings me to the real issue here. Living in a city means dealing with noise. It is right to want to minimize the most offending and loud noises. But you can't eliminate it entirely, especially when your community is built around a major passenger rail corridor.
Despite the fact that the Caltrain corridor has been handling passenger trains for much longer than any resident along the route has been alive, there are still people living there who seem to think they can make the train corridor silent and invisible. That's just not possible, unless these cities have billions of dollars lying around to spend on a tunnel. So instead you should find ways to ensure that the trains are well-integrated into the community, including finding ways to minimize the noise.
Above-grade tracks are the most cost-effective way to do this - and they come with the added benefit of making what is already an extremely dangerous corridor much safer by separating the trains and the cars and people passing by the tracks.
In short, if folks in Burlingame are upset at the horns, they should be asking their city councilmembers and city staff why they've joined with Menlo Park and Atherton to fight the above-grade solution that can affordably solve this rather loud problem.