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In September 2018 I travelled to California for a business trip. I stayed in downtown Palo Alto and with my time largely taken up by work, I didn’t expect to have time to head out and record. But as always when traveling, I did bring my compact recording kit with me just in case.

On my first evening I sat beside the pool of my hotel, enjoyed a cold beer and listened to the soundscape of the local city. Palo Alto is a fairly calm place but one of the sounds that instantly perked my interest were the train horns coming from the nearby railway line. Palo Alto station is the second-busiest on the Caltrain line after San Francisco and every train that passed through sounded its horn a number of times. I made a mental note to head out at some point during my trip and try to record some train bys.

On my second night, before going to bed, I went for a walk to scope out potential recording locations. I walked down a long path that ran alongside the railway line and recorded a couple of train bys. I quickly realised that the trains would use their horns as they approached a series of level crossings that looked like they were about 1km away. I headed back to my hotel and had a look on Google Maps to see how I could get closer to the level crossings. I noticed a small park on the map that was close enough to a level crossing to capture some nice train bys but I was hopeful the tree cover might offer some protection from the noise of cars and buses on the road. Later that week I headed to the park and managed to record in a great spot. The following soundscape features train bys from both locations.

To many Californians, maybe many Americans, these sounds may be very familiar and nothing special. But to my ears the long drawn out blows of these train horns were very different to what I usually hear in Europe and I was really happy to have had the opportunity to get close enough to record them. And I will always associate them with my time in warm sunny California.