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Rail News: Communication and Signal

Sound off: FRA issues interim final rule on train horns


On Dec. 17, the Federal Railroad Administration issued an interim final rule on sounding train horns, which is scheduled to take effect Dec. 18, 2004.

The rule requires trains to sound their horn when approaching a grade crossing, but enables local communities to quiet horns at about 150,000 nationwide crossings if the municipalities meet certain safety requirements. Communities with existing whistle bans have up to five years to implement the requirements.

"Research has shown that locomotive horns provide an important warning to motorists in advance of highway-rail crossings," said FRA Administrator Allan Rutter in a prepared statement. "However, we have sought to respond to the many communities which have continued to press for relief from unwanted train horn noise."

The rule enables local governments to establish quiet zones in low-collision-risk areas or upgrade higher-risk crossings by installing gates that block traffic in both directions, or an approved median divider to prevent motorists from crossing lanes or driving around a lowered gate; or temporarily close a crossing or one-way street with gates and lights. In addition, the rule allows railroads or municipalities to install an automated horn system at a crossing to act as a train-horn substitute.

"Train horns are important safety devices, but they also can be a nuisance for residents," said U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta. "This rule means less noise for millions of Americans living near railroad crossings."

Adds Association of American Railroads President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger: "The industry commends the FRA for developing a rule that recognizes public safety concerns and allows localities to develop alternatives where train horns disturb the quiet of residential neighborhoods."

The rule pre-empts existing state and local laws governing the sounding of train horns. FRA will not require horns to be sounded at private crossings, enabling states to establish those rules.

FRA plans to conduct a public hearing in Washington, D.C. — on a yet to be announced date — to enable interested parties to comment on issues addressed in the rule. By issuing an interim rule, FRA reserves the right to alter the rule based on feedback.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 12/18/2003