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Rail Crossing Safety for Quiet Zones

For decades, trains have sounded their horns to warn motorists and pedestrians of their approach. Throughout the 20th century, almost every state in the country had laws that required trains to blow their horns at crossings. However, some local communities were allowed by their state to create whistle bans or Quiet Zones, especially in residential areas.

A Quiet Zone is a portion of railroad line where the train crew is not required to sound the horn at road crossings. However, the crew is allowed to use the horn in this zone for safety reasons. The zone measures ¼ mile on each side of the crossing and may cover one or several crossings. Any community can qualify for this type of zone, providing it can meet the minimum rail crossing safety requirements. A diagnostic team is sent to assess collision risk at each crossing where the horn will be silenced, and has the authority to recommend needed changes or deem the area unsafe for a horn ban. These safety guidelines have been specified by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

In the 1990s, the FRA saw a significant increase of train/motorist collisions in areas that adopted the whistle ban. As a result, the FRA issued an Emergency Order that required trains to resume sounding their horns at all crossings, except for a few areas. When this rule was enacted, train/motorist casualties went back down to a normal level. There are traffic safety products available to make rail crossings safer to counteract the extra risk that whistle bans or Quiet Zones pose.

Rail Crossing Safety Improvement
Hundreds of motorists are killed at train crossings each year. Most of these accidents occur at crossings that are fully equipped with rail crossing safety devices. When a Quiet Zone is implemented, additional steps must be taken to ensure the safety of motorists, including the installation of full crossing gates and flashing lights to compensate for the horn warning. Depending on the on-site analysis, alternative measures may be required to allow for efficient and safe operation of highway and rail traffic at crossing.

A safe system—such as an at-grade centerline Tuff Curb® installation—can deter motorists from attempting to bypass the barriers. This is an excellent choice for a median since it can be seen clearly in both day and nighttime conditions. Once the necessary safety equipment has  been installed, the local community must prove to the FRA that risk reduction has been achieved.

Cost
The cost of building a Quiet Zone will depend on existing crossing infrastructure and how much improvement is required to meet the minimum regulations. Upgrade requirements are based on the individual conditions of every crossing, and involve factors like the number of vehicle lanes and traffic volumes. If the zone is built from scratch, the average cost might range from $300,000 to $500,000, depending on location.