Railroad locomotives have sounded their horns or whistles as they approach crossings as a safety measure for more than a century. Responding to an Executive Order and to improve safety and predictability, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued specific regulations in the 1990s requiring that locomotives sound their horn at all grade crossings nationwide, which specify the volume, length, and pattern of the sound. Effective June 2007, the FRA developed procedures whereby a community could implement a quiet zone without compromising safety. Federal law is contained in Section 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations, Part 222.
Given the Federal requirements to sound train horns at all grade crossings, there are two options to eliminate train horn noise. A local jurisdiction may choose to close one or more grade crossings, eliminating the need for train horns approaching those crossings. Alternatively, a local jurisdiction can seek to establish a "Quiet Zone," which is described in greater detail below.
A quiet zone, requested by a local jurisdiction and designated by the FRA, is a section of a rail line at least a half-mile long (extending a quarter-mile in each direction from a particular grade crossing) where additional safety measures have been put in place to allow waiving the requirement that locomotives must blow their horns when approaching grade crossings. The Quiet Zone does not prevent the use of horns to address imminent safety concerns (e.g., cars or a pedestrian stranded on the tracks).
Federal law indicates that only the public authority (such as a city or county) with jurisdiction over the road that crosses the tracks can apply for a Quiet Zone.
The process to request designation of a Quiet Zone has been developed by the FRA (www.fra.dot.gov/Page/P0104). There are several formal steps that must be taken by the public authority with jurisdiction over the road that crosses the tracks:
Public workshops may also be held to ensure greater public input and discussion about impacts, costs, and related issues.
As identified in the "Quiet Zone Evaluation," grade crossing improvements may be required to ensure the level of risk is the same or lower than what would exist if the horns were sounded. Such improvements vary by crossing. At a minimum, each crossing must have two-quadrant gates, lights and bells, and features like constant warning time and power-out indicators.
Additional required improvements may include physical barriers called "supplementary safety measures" (e.g., four-quadrant gates, median barriers, channelization), wayside horns, and/or alternative safety measures (e.g., programmed enforcement, public education). Each roadway approach to the crossing must be equipped with an advance warning sign advising drivers that trains do not sound their horns at the crossing.
The cost to establish a Quiet Zone varies by segment and is based on each individual grade crossing. Generally, the cost includes: (1) evaluation, design & construction; and (2) a new/updated annual cost for operations/maintenance. Both types of costs depend on the amount and types of improvements necessary at a particular grade crossing. Both costs are the responsibility of the local government in which the Quiet Zone is located.
The process to establish a quiet zone requires approval and coordination from a number of different entities including subject local governments, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Florida Department of Transportation, and Florida East Coast Railway (FEC).
Yes, there are multiple quiet zones located along the South Florida Rail Corridor, which is where Tri-Rail and CSX trains operate today.
There is significant interest from all the municipalities and counties along the Florida East Coast Corridor to establish Quiet Zones since All Aboard Florida and discussions for commuter service are progressing. The Metropolitan Planning Organizations, Treasure Coast Regional Planning Council, and League of Cities are working with these municipalities along with the Florida Department of Transportation and All Aboard Florida/Florida East Coast Industries to explore ways in which Quiet Zones can be established and the associated costs for any improvements.
Current proposals for additional train service in southeast Florida have increased interest in Quiet Zones at rail crossings. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) process for the establishment of Quiet Zones allows horns not to sound if certain safety measures are in place at crossings. To read more about the FRA rule, click here.
"The Broward and Palm Beach MPOs have funded studies, provided technical trainings, and funded supplemental safety features and infrastructure at road crossings to qualify for a continuous quiet zone designation from Hallandale Beach (Broward County) through West Palm Beach (Palm Beach County) to correspond with the first phase of the All Aboard Florida project.? The only section of the Tri-Rail Coastal Link corridor would be the segment from West Palm Beach to Jupiter. This segment would be eligible for future study."