Caltrain noise pollution disrupts classes near tracks

Officials say transition to electric trains holds potential to help climate, reduce interruptions across Bay Area
Caltrain noise pollution disrupts classes near tracks
As the cross country and track and field teams begin their daily warm-up route, sophomore William Xue jogs along the train tracks of Alma Street. He turns to his teammate to start a conversation, only for the deafening screech of the Caltrain to hurtle by, cutting him off mid-sentence.
Due to the close proximity of the train tracks to Paly, Xue said the noise of the Caltrain is a nuisance to many students and teachers.
“It’s really loud and kind of annoying, especially when the train comes by and we’re running along the path between Paly and the railroad,” Xue said. “When the train comes by, and (our coach) is talking, everyone has to wait for the train to pass by before he can continue speaking.”
Additionally, Xue said he often has to record audio for assignments in Chinese, where his classroom is close to the tracks.
“The Caltrain is pretty inconvenient, especially if (we have) a timed assignment,” Xue said. “The train goes by and just messes up the recording.”
English teacher Kari Snell, who has been teaching at Paly for 15 years, said she experiences disruptive noise from the train in the classroom. “It feels like we’re right on the train tracks,” Snell said. “It is a constant distraction that you get used to. We’ve learned to tune it out, but it’s still there and is kind of bothersome.”
Caltrain Public Information Officer Dan Lieberman said the Caltrain system is expecting a shift to electric trains running from San Jose to Redwood City by the fall, which will produce significantly less noise compared to the diesel engines.
“At top speed, they should be five decibels lower,” Lieberman said. “Decibels are on a natural logarithmic scale, making that actually a pretty substantial five removed.”
Snell said she is appreciative of this advancement and the potential noise reduction.
“There’s just general problems that come with the tragedies that have been associated with (the train), and that can be difficult for students to be reminded of,” Snell said.
Lieberman said the train electrification project will also affect residents from all over the Bay Area.
“Millions of people are going to ride this service,” Lieberman said. “We are at the beginning of a very major change, and we’re going to be seeing a big improvement in our service.”
And Lieberman said there are many other things developing on the rail front with high speed rail moving along.
“The electrification of Caltrain is a very big first step into an exciting new future of California rail,” Lieberman said. “I just can’t wait for people to get on board and see for themselves.”
Overall, Snell said the noise reduction will greatly impact her teaching in a positive way and benefit her ability to focus on carrying through her lessons.
Snell said, “It will be such a nice refreshing change of pace to not have the train going by constantly all day long while I’m trying to teach.
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