City of San Jose exploring legal action against Union Pacific over blight, noise

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In a David versus Goliath like fight, the City of San Jose is now exploring legal action against Union Pacific Railroad over a list of grievances including noise from overnight trains and blight. The railroad company said it's protected by federal laws. Railroad representatives met with more than 100 residents at a community meeting.

“It’s a blare, it's not even just a honking,” said Victor Maestas of San Jose. “It’s a blaring noise that's deafening.”

Maestas is describing what he hears several times overnight as trains roll through San Jose’s Japantown. His home is right by a railroad crossing. Maestas said it’s so loud the windows shake and his grandson wakes up.

“In our particular case we have a two-year-old, a child in our home and it disrupts all his patterns of sleep,” said Maestas.

It’s a quality of life issue that began in February when Union Pacific started running more trains at night to cut costs. Union Pacific is mandated by federal law to blow horns at crossings.

At a community meeting Wednesday night, families held signs demanding Union Pacific put the brakes on the night trains.

“I’m using earplugs and a powerful white noise device,” said Jason Muehring of San Jose. “It’s ridiculous we have to use these measures to sleep during normal times.”

However, it's not just the noise residents are upset about, it’s the blight, homeless encampments and illegal dumping. The city can't clean it up. It’s the railroad's jurisdiction.

“We recognize that our trains our loud, the train horns are loud,” Union Pacific Railroad Spokesman Francisco Castillo. “I’m not saying it's okay but we have a rail network that's pretty extensive that supports interstate commerce.”

Union Pacific said it's exploring community cleanups, giving law enforcement access to the tracks and identifying hot spots for fencing.

To mitigate noise, Union Pacific supports establishing quiet zones for 14 railroad crossings in San Jose that could stop the horn blaring at a cost to the city.

“It’s clear to me that local taxpayers should not be subsidizing the business decisions of Union Pacific,” said Mayor Sam Liccardo. “If there's infrastructure here, Union Pacific ought to be paying for it.”

Residents have no plans to back down. Many of them support the city if the fight ends in litigation.

“Union Pacific cannot lend us a deaf ear and continue to do business the way they always wanted,” said Maestas. “I believe back in the 1800s they got all these rights. It's time to change.”

In the Mayor’s budget, $500,000 has been allocated to explore legal remedies against Union Pacific and for the infrastructure costs if quiet zones are created.