'I know it's a royal pain:' SMART train president empathizes with sound of blaring horns

Another three nights of SMART train testing has San Rafael residents on their last nerves. 

Some say they have to leave town in order to sleep. 

Mayor Gary Phillps, who is also president of the SMART Board, is apologizing to the community and calling for some adjustments. 

"I know it's a royal pain," Phillips admitted, during the City Council meeting Tuesday evening. "I've received a number of criticisms about this testing program keeping people up at night so I apologize for that."  

Cell phone video from 1 a.m. and 2 a.m., which was shared on social media and sent to city leaders show empty trains traveling downtown tracks, with horns blaring non-stop.

The purpose is to make sure the train control system is working properly on the new extension running south, expected to carry passengers by the end of the year. 

"It keeps honking all the way into Larkspur," said protest organizer Letha Marchetti, "and It's horrific, wakes you out of  a solid sleep, and just when you're sleeping again, there it is again."

Marchetti's panoramic view in East San Rafael overlooks the bay and hillside neighborhoods, where she says the sound travels far and wide. 

"This isn't one neighborhood, this is 15 neighborhoods, and thousands of people being abused," said Marchetti, whose group is called "Marin Residents for Peace and Quiet." "Do you really want your surgeon to not sleep the night before, or the person who cares for your child, or the driver who just goes through the intersection?" 

The past holiday weekend saw the most intense testing yet: Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. 

"They lay on that horn and it was 5 a.m.," said resident Debora Salvorsen, who spoke to the city council about her concerns. "Some of us had to leave town this weekend, because it's unbelievably difficult to sleep, and losing sleep for three nights for families and  people who have to work, it's just not acceptable." 

Phillips noted the testing occurs after regular service is finished for the day, because that's when trains are available, and because of how the testing software works. 

But when he presides over SMART's board meeting on Wednesday, he says he will push the general manager for answers about where testing stands, and what alternatives exist. 

"I'm going to ask if any other arrangements can be made, and perhaps we curtail service, I don't know," said Phillips.

Federal regulations require rigorous safety testing and for good reason, Phillips said: "If you're in the tracks when that train comes through your dead, it's that simple. That train is not going to stop, it can't."  
Horn opponents are organizing now on a Facebook page, called "Smart and Quiet".
Suggestions are plentiful. 

"There's a directional horn instead of all-over sound, so it could just go down the track, and that would help," said Marchetti, "and they could lower the decibles, that would help too." 

The group has also been in contact with an attorney, hoping to mediate with SMART, or if necessary seek a court injunction to stop the overnight commotion. 

"Sleep deprivation is a thing, it's a torture," said Marchetti, "and they they have options, there's a lot they could do, they're just deciding to do what works for them." 

SMART's board meeting is at 1:30 p.m. at 5401 Old Redwood Highway, 1st floor, in Petaluma.