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Why are train horns so loud in downtown San Diego right now?

Several cars of a Surfliner train at Santa Fe Depot are shown on April 28, 2023.
Carlos Castillo
Several cars of a Surfliner train at Santa Fe Depot are shown on April 28, 2023.

Federal rail officials have temporarily suspended the railway “Quiet Zone” through downtown San Diego. As a result, residents will hear more train horns at crossings between Laurel Street and Fifth Avenue.

The suspension was issued by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) after an inspection Wednesday found “deficiencies” in required safety measures at the downtown railroad crossings. Quiet zones prevent a passing train from sounding its horn at crossings, but only if certain safety conditions are met.

“I fully recognize and apologize for the distress the Quiet Zone suspension is causing Downtown residents who live near the train tracks,” San Diego Mayor Todd Gloria said in a statement. “The City is working with urgency to correct deficiencies and bring the Quiet Zone into compliance.”


Gloria said city crews were working Friday to replace signage, pavement markings and flex posts identified as deficient by the FRA. The mayor added that crews will work through the weekend.

Little Italy resident Celeste Revels said the noise is almost unbearable. She and her boyfriend live on Pacific Coast Highway. The trolley and train tracks run behind their building, so the noise is nothing new. But on Wednesday night, things were different.

"Two nights ago, around 10 p.m., we noticed the horns lasting a really long time,” Revels said.

“And I thought well, I guess someone must be on the tracks right now, maybe their car is stuck. We noticed it being very off. And then shortly after 30 minutes later. It happened again.”

She said normally train horns will be a quick beep, but that night trains were “just laying on the horn.”


The mayor’s statement said the required fixes will be completed by the end of January to submit to the FRA for evaluation. There’s no timeline for when the evaluation will be complete.

Until then, Revels and her neighbors are doing everything they can to get a good night's sleep.

“We bought two different kinds of earplugs last night. I sleep with a Bluetooth headset and listen to podcasts to fall asleep and trying kind of everything,” she said. “But I mean even my neighbors and ourselves still couldn't sleep much last night and are very tired today.”

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