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Work to Begin in 4 O.C. Cities to Silence Trains by Lowering Tracks

Noise: The $440-million project will get underway Tuesday in Placentia. But relief for residents weary of the frequent warnings is still years away.


Placentia residents plagued by blaring train whistles hope that work starting next week will give them relief--and improve traffic flow at the same time.

The $440-million OnTrac project, which will eventually include Anaheim, Fullerton and Yorba Linda, will lower the tracks by as much as 40 feet so street traffic can go over passenger and freight trains, rather than stop for them. Besides eliminating a potential traffic hazard and easing congestion, the project will mean that train crews won't have to blow their whistles as they approach intersections.

"This is a No. 1 issue for the staff here and the entire community," said Kristin Gundel, a management analyst for Placentia. "People are constantly calling us and e-mailing us about the noise, because they cannot rest."

Work on the five-mile project, which will include 11 railroad crossings, will begin Tuesday at Melrose Street and Bradford and Placentia avenues. That phase is scheduled to be completed by 2005. All 11 crossings should be finished within seven years, said Chris Becker, Placentia's director of public works.

Citing safety concerns, Burlington Northern & Santa Fe Railway Co. in early 2000 resumed using horns on freight trains for the first time in 25 years. Placentia officials sued to stop the practice except in emergencies, but a judge denied the request, saying the court could not issue a ruling that might expose the rail line to liability.

About 100 Burlington Northern-Santa Fe trains pass through Placentia daily. OnTrac was formed in April 2000 as a joint-powers venture among the four cities.

"The noise of the trains has really become a nuisance," resident John Cullum said. "There is a noise restriction, but you get an occasional engineer who thinks that he has the prerogative to blow the whistle whenever he wants to."

Burlington Northern spokeswoman Lena Kent in San Bernardino said safety is still the primary concern.

"Our engineers must always have the discretion to blow the whistle," she said. "We always have to do what's necessary to maintain safety measures."

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