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Wayside Horns In Operation
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Escalon residents may have noticed something Monday night into early Tuesday morning ... the lack of constant train whistles blowing as the freight and passenger trains rolled through.

The switch was officially flipped on the new wayside horn system for Escalon at 12:01 a.m. Tuesday, bringing to an end the era of train horns blowing in the community every few minutes.

There will still be times when engineers will use the train horns, such as during the to and from school times, when students might be near the tracks, or when traffic appears to be inordinately heavy in an area around an intersection. But, for the most part, the horns are history.

"We did talk to the dispatch in Stockton and we expect some horns, which we would want," City Manager Greg Greeson said of maintaining safety at all times.

But of the roughly 20 or so trains between midnight and 8 a.m. Tuesday, Greeson said three or four may have blown their horns.

The wayside horn system puts the directional horns at intersections and it is those horns that are activated as the train approaches. That way, each individual intersection has the noise, but the train itself does not have to blow its horn as it approaches each one. The directional horns are at a lower decibel level and are aimed directly at the traffic, limiting the sound to those waiting at the crossing.

Activation of the wayside horn system was a long time coming, and officials met at the First Street crossing for a ceremonial 'flipping of the switch' on Tuesday morning - about 10 a.m. - even though it had actually been activated several hours earlier.

Just one of the projects that officials are working on, the wayside horns issue was one of those that will improve the quality of life for residents, who will no longer be barraged by the noisy, constant train horns.

Meanwhile, Greeson said progress is being made on the Civic Center issue, with city officials opting to stop short of rejecting all construction bids last week. Originally anticipating going back out for more, Greeson said they decided instead to go back and look more closely at all of the bids received, in case there were some options they might have missed that could bring the cost down.

Ultimately, he said, the goal is to get work started on the project as quickly as possible and if a bid already received can be accepted, that would be preferred in terms of a timetable.

A group of city staff members is working on the project and Greeson said they are on a fast track, since construction will have to get started soon on the McHenry Avenue properties in order to get all city departments moved in by early next spring.

"We're going to see if we can retool it a bit," explained Greeson. "We'll look at a couple of other options, we just want a little more time, but we'd like to move the project forward, either completely or partially."

Also, the city is still coming to grips with the loss of Friendly Chevrolet, which abruptly went out of business earlier this month and now is just a vacant lot on McHenry, with all the cars having been repossessed over the last couple of weeks.

City Planner Duane Peterson said the site could be taken over by another business, but so far there have not been any calls inquiring about the property.

"We didn't know anything about it at all," Greeson said of the unexpected closure.

The loss of the car dealership, however, equates to quite a hit to the city coffers.

"They are our largest tax base generator, they were number one," Greeson said. "It'll mean about a $100,000 hit this year ... it'll be more next year."

Greeson said with that revenue loss in mind, department heads have already been given notice to keep their budgets to the bare minimum for the coming fiscal year.

"We're going to be buckling down," agreed Greeson. "The focus is to maintain the level of services."

While there are no projected staff cuts, Greeson said positions lost to retirement will probably not be filled right away and there will be other cost-cutting moves as well.

The city does have a healthy reserve, however, that could be tapped if necessary.

"The council does realize that's what we put that money in there for," Greeson said.