Nighttime freight trains are blasting their horns in midtown Sacramento, angering residents

Freight trains are a common sight on tracks through midtown Sacramento.
Freight trains are a common sight on tracks through midtown Sacramento. rpench@sacbee.com

After years of silence, freight trains have begun sounding their horns through central Sacramento in recent weeks, often in the middle of the night, waking residents and upsetting officials who point out that Sacramento is a federally approved “no horn” zone.

Robert Wilson, who lives near the train tracks in midtown Sacramento, is among those who say they have been startled from sleep in the past two weeks by long blasts of train horns as locomotives pass through midtown.

“Neighbors have bags under their eyes,” Wilson said. One train hit its horn this week a few feet from his residence at 1:45 a.m., “as loud as you can imagine.”

City Councilman Steve Hansen said he has been getting constituent complaints and is discussing the issue with Union Pacific, but he acknowledged local officials “don’t have much leverage.” Freight railroads follow federal rules, including specific safety rules, and are not regulated by cities.

Sacramento city leaders worked out a deal with UP and the federal government years ago to have the city designated as a train-horn “quiet zone.” But UP officials said engineers are allowed to sound horns when needed, and are often required to under certain circumstances for safety purposes, even in quiet zones.

UP spokesman Justin Jacobs said the railroad has been doing track upgrade work around Sacramento lately. Engineers must sound horns when passing through areas where people are working on or near the tracks under federal rail-safety regulations.

A block of Broadway between 19th and 20th streets has been closed daily this week as UP crews replace the rail crossing there.

Jacobs apologized for the inconvenience and said the company is working with the city on better communication in advance about freight activities.

“While we will do everything we can to follow quiet zones in our communities where they exist, the safety of our employees and communities we serve will always be our primary concern, and sometimes that requires blowing the horn at our engineer’s discretion,” Jacobs said.

UP officials said more freight trains are being rerouted in recent weeks through Sacramento because heavy storms have caused mudslides and other problems on other train routes into and out of California. BNSF also runs freight trains through Sacramento.

Local officials and some midtown residents said they wonder if some engineers, unfamiliar with Sacramento, are not aware that the city is a no-horn zone.

Hansen has said he would like, at some point, to persuade UP to move the tracks outside the city. That would eliminate the horn issue and traffic backups as cars wait for daily freight trains to pass.

A freight train stalled on the tracks parallel to 19th street, halting traffic in midtown during the peak of Tuesday’s morning commute, according to the Sacramento Police Department. In this video, crews fix the coupling of the freight train.

Tony Bizjak: 916-321-1059, @TonyBizjak

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