The “Train Horn Rule” is a Federal unfunded mandate passed in 2005 by the FRA. It requires railroad operators to blast 96dB train horns at crossings — even where there are signals and crossing gates. Local communities along the tracks either have to put up with the ear-splitting noise, or else pay millions of dollars for dubious “Quiet-Zone” improvements. The rule has created a lot of frustration for communities that want to promote economic development around downtown railway stations:
As Fort Collins considers spending millions of dollars to silence freight trains on the Mason Corridor, elected federal officials are pleading with regulators to help end a “nuisance” they say keeps residents awake and stifles economic development. About 15 trains run daily along the city’s Mason Corridor, each blowing its horn for at least 15 seconds before entering crossings at intersections with streets such as Prospect, Mulberry and Mountain.
Federal Railroad Administration regulations require those train horns, and there are two ways to silence them: spend millions to install “quiet zones” with special crossing gates, or change federal regulations entirely. So while Fort Collins considers whether it should spend the money, U.S. Sens. Michael Bennet and Mark Udall, both Colorado Democrats, are asking regulators to reconsider the rules.
“City leaders across the state have told us how train horns stifle business and development in downtown areas and that they’ve run into challenges trying to meet regulations on quiet zones,” Bennet said in a statement issued Thursday. “We’re working to bring their voices to Washington and asking the FRA to take another look at these rules. Ideally, they’ll be more responsive to the needs of communities and we’ll have less bureaucratic red tape.”
Colorado Senators Bennet and Udall have sent a letter to FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo. Here is a copy of that letter:
January 23, 2013
Dear Administrator Szabo:
We write to request that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reopen the rulemaking process on the Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings (hereafter the “Train Horn Rule”). This would give the affected communities the chance to provide further input on the rule’s impact, while continuing to ensure the safety of their residents.
As you know, the Train Horn Rule was published in 2005 and was designed to promote safety while providing flexibility to communities negatively impacted by the requirement that trains sound their horns at certain times and decibel levels when traveling through municipalities. The 2005 rule allowed municipalities to apply to be a part of so-called “quiet zones” where they could be exempted from train horn sounding requirements when certain conditions were met.
Municipal leaders from Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Greeley and Windsor, Colorado have expressed concerns to our offices that the train horn noise is a nuisance for local residents and that it stifles economic development by discouraging businesses and housing developers from building and locating in the heart of their communities. As you may expect, train horn noise impacts almost everyone in communities where the railroad runs right through the center of town and where the business and residential area is spread over a relatively small area. These impacts are amplified in downtown areas, which are focusing on redevelopment and urban renewal, as well as on creating healthy, walkable neighborhoods.
Although the underlying rule provides a quiet zone exemption, the communities listed above have indicated that the complexity of analyzing each different crossing and the costs associated with qualifying for an exemption are prohibitive for many municipalities in the state impacted by the rule.
While we strongly support the Train Horn Rule’s goal of reducing accidents at highway-rail grade crossings, we are concerned that it may prevent certain municipalities from being able to create quiet zones without incurring prohibitive costs. A more flexible rule could enable these communities to craft a solution that ensures safety yet also reduces noise and promotes long-term economic growth.
The Office of Management and Budget recently invited comment on the rule regarding how information and data relevant to the rule’s implementation is collected, with the goal of streamlining the process of collecting information from affected communities.
While this is an encouraging step, we believe the rule itself should allow for additional flexibility. It is therefore our hope that the FRA will consider re-opening the rule in order to consider further changes.
Thank you in advance for your consideration.
TGV passing through level crossing — without sounding the horn.