Baby Bullet has neighbors squealingBy Justin Nyberg
As any parent knows, a baby is bound to create a few sleepless nights.
For residents of The City's Mission Bay neighborhood, the arrival of Caltrain's new Baby Bullet trains has coincided with an electrical problem that has kept engines whirring -- and nerves fraying.
"It's as loud as a 747 taking off," said John, a 36-year-old local high school teacher who preferred to keep his last name private. "You can wrap a pillow around your head, or three, and it's still penetrating."
John's loft bedroom opens out onto the Caltrain switching yard, and he says the all-night noise from the engines' cooling fans is so loud between the hours of midnight and 5 a.m. that he can barely sleep. Double-paned windows, earplugs and a white-noise machine are of little help.
On June 7, Caltrain launched the Baby Bullet train service, which carries commuters between The City and San Jose in less than an hour by skipping many stations along the route. Ten sleek new Bullet trains were rolled out for the occasion.
Trains housed at the Caltrain depot, Fourth Street between King and Townsend streets, are usually plugged into an electrical circuit between midnight and 5 a.m. to provide power to cleaning crews. The circuit for five of the 12 tracks failed on Baby Bullet's inaugural day, forcing Caltrain to keep several trains running all night to power the cars.
"It's definitely very noisy, and unfortunately it's happening right across the street" from several residential buildings, Caltrain spokeswoman Janet McGovern said. "We hope to get it taken care of soon."
It is not clear what caused the circuit breaker to fail. McGovern said Caltrain contracts with Amtrak to service and operate the trains.
Amtrak hired an electrical contractor to do some repairs at the station, but the company suddenly folded and left Amtrak scrambling for a replacement, she said. Amtrak wouldn't comment on the situation.
Caltrain officials say an idling train is similar to a 70-decibel noise at 100 feet, about the same as a household vaccum cleaner. According to the Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, the average person cannot sleep when subjected to 45 decibels of background noise.
The power problems on two of the five tracks were fixed June 10, and Caltrain is only cleaning one train at a time to keep the late-night noise down.
"We have to do the maintenance and inspection work on trains which are laid over in The City, and it is just work that has to be done. When this electrical situation is repaired, the noise should be much better," McGovern said.
Steve Snodgrass, 34, bought a loft in a building on the corner of Fifth and Townsend streets four years ago and said he didn't think too much about living next to a train station. He said he has grown accustomed to being disturbed by late-night horns and train arrivals, but the recent noise has been almost unbearable.
"Hearing them revving up at four in the morning is just very disturbing," he said.
The new trains required some retooling of the Caltrain timetable, so now trains rumble out of the station at 4:46 a.m., a half hour earlier than they used to. Plus, an additional two Baby Bullet trains now must be serviced in the Caltrain yard at night.
Another Caltrain neighbor, Jeff Lucas, 46, contradicted the complaints.
"It's always been that way, as long as I've been here," Lucas said. The Caltrain station has been at its current location since the 1970s.
Designs for the proposed Transbay Terminal call for a new underground Caltrain station downtown that would move the station out of the Mission Bay neighborhood. The $2 billion project, which is in the planning stages, is aiming for a 2012 opening.
Copyright ©2004 Peninsula Examiner. Published 06/23/2004.