Freight locomotives to sound horns in Sonoma, Marin counties during safety equipment tests

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Freight locomotives will begin sounding their horns several times a night along the railroad tracks from Novato to Petaluma starting Thursday night as part of a federally mandated testing of safety equipment.

Northwestern Pacific, the sole freight operator on rails it shares with commuter trains in Marin and Sonoma counties, will run locomotives four to five times a night, sounding horns at all crossings that are not part of established quiet zones, said Doug Bosco, co-owner of NWP.

Following Thursday night’s startup, the test runs by slow-rolling locomotives will occur between 9:30 p.m. and 4 a.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays and from 9:30 p.m. to 9 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays, potentially continuing through mid-April.

NWP‘s regular freight schedule consists of two to three trips a week between Napa and Windsor, partly on tracks it shares with Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit but not during the same hours as the commuter trains.

Federal regulations require the freight hauler to test the positive train control system on both of its locomotives, Bosco said.

Bosco is an investor in Sonoma Media Investments, which owns The Press Democrat.

Freight trains sound a low, three-tone horn, quite different from SMART trains, he said. They rumble along at 15 to 40 mph, compared with a top speed of 79 mph for SMART, which owns the tracks.

Once testing on the Novato to Petaluma route is completed, it will move north to Cotati, Rohnert Park, Santa Rosa and part of Windsor and could take up to six months to complete, SMART said.

North of Petaluma there are only four rail crossings where the freight horns will sound and the rest are in quiet zones, said Jeanne Belding, a SMART spokeswoman.

Updates on the test schedule will be posted on SMART’s website.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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