Train horns save lives. The locomotive engineer has the responsibility and the discretion to sound the horn at specified times, or when a safety hazard is perceived. Too many Americans are killed each year while ignoring signals at grade crossings or while trespassing on railroad tracks. For background information about this problem, please visit the Operation Lifesaver website at www.oli.org.
Federal law requires the train crew when approaching a road crossing to sound the horn at all public crossings for the protection and safety of motorists and pedestrians regardless of whether crossings with gates and lights are present. Only crossings that have met Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) criteria for a Quiet Zone do not require the horn to be blown.
Train crews may also sound their horns when there is a vehicle, person or animal on or near the track and the crew determines it is appropriate to provide warning. Crews may also sound their train horn when there are track or construction workers within 25 feet of a live track, or when gates and lights at the crossing are not functioning properly.
The federal rule governing whistle use requires the train horns to blow at a sound level of at least 96 decibels. However, some horns may blow as loud as 110 decibels. A train crew can be fined by the FRA for not sounding the horn enough. BNSF management and the FRA spot check train crews for compliance with the horn rule without the train crews’ knowledge.
One solution to reduce the use of train horns is for a community to apply for FRA approval for a Quiet Zone. A Quiet Zone is a stretch of track where the railroad is not required to automatically blow the horn at each crossing except in emergencies, such as someone on the track, workers within 25 feet of the track etc. Communities can make a number of investments in additional grade crossing safety at crossings in order to qualify for a Quiet Zone.
Only the FRA can grant a Quiet Zone. The process starts with your community leaders. Community leaders who have questions about BNSF's role in the quiet zone process can e-mail French Thompson BNSF's director, Public Projects. You can also find information in the BNSF Public Projects Manual.
Another way to reduce train horn noise is to close a crossing. When most communities built roads across rail lines, they had the option of building an overpass or underpass over, or under, the track. Most chose the less expensive option, which was to build the road at grade level with the tracks. BNSF has a program to work with communities to close crossings.
Another option is to build more overpasses so that motorists can safely cross over or under the track without regard for when trains operate. That's how the federal highway system was built -- not only does it not have a single traffic light on it, there is also not a single at-grade rail crossing. Trains and motor vehicles safely pass over and under each other without danger of collision or the need to blow a horn.
For a comprehensive look at the federally mandated train horn regulations, visit the Federal Railroad Administration site.
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