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Rules for Using Quiet Zone Signs

Quiet zone signs mark locations where trains are not permitted to use audible warning devices.  While some people love the sound of a train whistle or horn, others find it annoying or even disturbing.  For this reason, the Federal Railroad Administration has established guidelines for creating quiet zones.  This post will discuss the history and content of quiet zone regulations.  This is an entry-level introduction to the topic, so please consult this site for more detailed information.

At one time, the system for establishing train whistle-free areas was informal and varied from state to state and community to community.  This began to change in the late 1980s as a result of repeated motor vehicle-train collisions clustered around the Florida East Coast railway corridor.  Communities along this railway had negotiated train whistle bans with railway companies.

In 1991, the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) issued an emergency order terminating these agreements.  Upon doing so, the number of train-motor vehicle collisions returned to pre-ban levels.  Congress followed up in 1994 with a law requiring locomotives to sound their horns at public highway crossings.  However, the statute also established protocols for waiving this rule.  To achieve a local waiver, a community must meet the following conditions:

  • Verify that local conditions can allow the use of alternatives to train horns.  This requires a study that determines whether the Quiet Zone Risk Index (QZRI) can allow for use of non-audible safety measures like gates and flashing lights.  If the QZRI is within federal guidelines, then the community can petition railroad companies for a local ban on the train horn.
  • Develop a plan for installing supplemental safety measures that will protect the public from train collisions.  Possible alternatives to the train whistle include one-way gated streets, automated gate systems, high-visibility flashing lights, and locally installed focused amplification horns.  In some cases, the community can negotiate with highway officials to close certain crossing locations altogether.
  • Provide funding for the required supplemental safety measures.  Cost for installing these devices can vary widely, from the $30,000 to over 1 million, depending on local conditions.  Normally, local municipalities bear these costs after consultation with residents.
  • Create a Notice of Intent (NOI) for railway companies to review.  The NOI must specify the boundaries of the proposed quiet zone and provide for the installation of quiet zone signs as needed.  Both the railways and state agencies have 60 days to comment on the plan and/or file objections to its implementation.
  • Submit the plan to the FRA for approval.  The organization typically rules on the application within 3 to 4 months.
  • Assuming approval, officials in the proposed quiet zone must install the needed supplemental safety measures.  After doing so, they can then file a Notice of Quiet Zone Establishment.
  • Assuming all requirements have been met, the quiet zone will officially come into effect 21 days after the notice is mailed.

Once a quiet zone is in effect, the FRA will monitor the local situation to ensure there is no uptick in the number of train-motor vehicle collisions.  The organization may revoke the quiet zone rule if this problem occurs, or if engineers are forced to sound the whistle in order to warn away trespassers or other impediments to the progress of the train.

Balancing public safety considerations with the desires of local citizens isn’t always easy.  In giving local communities the option to ban the use of train whistles, the FRA has demonstrated its willingness to accommodate these concerns whenever reasonably possible.  If your community is considering establishing a quiet zone, Impact Recovery can provide the required quiet zone signs.  These products meet federal requirements for such notices. Contact us today for more information.