San Jose residents clamor for a good night’s sleep
A partial train quiet zone has been implemented in San Jose's Japantown along the Warm Springs rail corridor. Photo courtesy of Flora Moreno de Thompson.

Silence is golden for downtown San Jose residents.

Since 2018, residents, politicians and the city have worked with Union Pacific Railroad to negotiate a partial quiet zone from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. along the Warm Springs rail corridor, which passes through Japantown and the Hensley Historic District of San Jose. It finally went into effect on May 10, allowing residents a restful night’s sleep.

Previously, train horns blared into the wee hours, multiple times a night. In the quiet zone, train operators won’t blow their horns when approaching crossings as usually required, except in emergency situations when people or vehicles are on or near the tracks.

Assemblymember Ash Kalra, who represents the 27th District, credit residents for raising the issue and for their persistence.

“Our job as elected officials, because we aren’t on the ground in every neighborhood, is to listen to neighborhood concerns,” Kalra told San José Spotlight. “If there’s an opportunity to resolve the issue, we get to work.”

Jason Muehring and Christopher Wemp, community advocates who spearheaded the effort, celebrated their win on Nextdoor.

“This is great news! After three years, three months and 10 days, we’ll finally be able to enjoy much quieter nights in Downtown San Jose. Nights free of train horns!” Muehring said.

Wemp said it’s been nice to have the peace of mind that he won’t be woken up by trains.

“It’s an important milestone,” he told San José Spotlight. “A number of community members were suffering from sleep deprivation.”

A map of the street-level crossings along the Warm Springs rail corridor. Image courtesy of San Jose.

Course correction

In 2018, Union Pacific Railroad changed its operating structure, increasing the number of trains passing through the Warm Springs corridor. Wemp said it was a complete shock for the community and motivated residents to ask the city for help.

Councilmember Raul Peralez, who represents that downtown district where the noise pollution of night trains was nonstop, requested a quiet zone in March 2019 after receiving ongoing complaints. Residents organized, public hearings were held and the city even considered suing the railroad.

Colin Heyne, transportation department spokesperson, said it’s understandable residents were alarmed and upset.

“These are loud train horns,” he told San José Spotlight, “and they pass very close to several condos and apartments.”

Tamiko Rast, president of the Japantown Business Association, said the Japantown neighborhood is thrilled that the partial quiet zone has been implemented. She said aging homes in the area have single-pane windows and the train horns were harmful to residents’ health due to sleep interruptions.

Striping, signs, plastic posts and bumps on the pavement were installed along the rail corridor. Photo courtesy of San Jose.

Achieving the quiet zone wasn’t an easy task. The city’s transportation department hired a consultant who found the single set of tracks and slow train speeds in the corridor met the minimum qualifications for a partial quiet zone. Then approval was needed from the California Public Utilities Commission and Federal Railroad Administration.

City engineers met with Union Pacific consultants for a year, meticulously reviewing the corridor intersection by intersection to determine what safety measures would be needed.

Safety enhancements include signage, raised street bumps and painted dots at train crossings. In addition, plastic posts and a blockage of eastbound traffic on Jackson Street from North Seventh Street was created to prevent vehicles from driving over a portion of the tracks not protected by a railroad gate arm. A permanent gate arm will be installed in the future and traffic will be restored, Heyne said, but it could take up to two years.

The funding was secured by Congressmember Zoe Lofgren, Assemblymember Kalra and Santa Clara County Supervisor Cindy Chavez. The estimated cost of the project was $12.8 million. The city budgeted $5 million, with $8 million from SB 129, a law that enables the city to appropriate additional funds. 

Heyne said the project took a lot of effort, but was necessary because of the large number of residents affected.

“These train horns for most people are impossible to sleep through,” he said. “People with jobs, kids, everybody was unable to sleep through the night.”

Contact Lorraine Gabbert at [email protected]

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