Quiet Zone Means No Train Horns: Norman's Quiet Zone Went Into Effect February 17
As of 12:01 a.m. Friday, February 17, the new quiet zone went into effect in Norman. The BNSF Railway Company and Amtrak began observance of the new quiet zone with a gradual decrease of the train horns during the first 24 to 48 hours, after which the train horns will be silenced. The new quiet zone will benefit many residents and patrons of businesses located close to the railroad line.
A quiet zone is one or more consecutive at-grade rail-roadway crossings where the sounding of locomotive horns is prohibited under routine conditions. Norman’s quiet zone includes at-grade crossings at Indian Hills Road, Franklin Road, Tecumseh Road, Rock Creek Road, Lexington Avenue, Acres Street, Gray Street, Main Street, Eufaula Street, Duffy Street, Boyd Street, Brooks Street, Lindsey Street, Constitution Street, Cedar Lane Road and Post Oak Road.
The quiet zone does not guarantee the horn will never be sounded. Train horns may be sounded in emergencies or to comply with other railroad or Federal Railway Administration (FRA) rules or at the discretion of the train crews. Under federal regulations, engineers must sound the horn to warn railroad maintenance employees or contractors working on the tracks.
A quiet zone can be established at rail-roadway crossings if the crossing is deemed safe enough to qualify, or by implementing safety measures that make the crossing safe enough according to qualifications set by the U.S. Department of Transportation risk index. Safety measures, including median barriers and warning signs, qualified the corridor in Norman for a quiet zone. The City of Norman realized savings by utilizing city crews for construction of the safety measures, which cost approximately $300,000.
The City of Norman, in collaboration with the Oklahoma Department of Transportation and the BNSF Railway Company, had previously implemented a railroad corridor safety project that resulted in the elimination of two railroad crossings (at Daws Street and Tonhawa Street), and the installation of warning lights, gates, concrete crossing surfaces and state-of-the-art constant warning track circuitry at all the other crossings in Norman. The work, which was completed in the late 1990’s at a cost of more than $2.5 million, mostly paid with federal railroad safety funds, made it possible for the city to qualify for the new quiet zone with only a minimal expenditure of funds for the construction of additional supplemental safety measures.
FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
What is a Quiet Zone?
According to the US Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), a Quiet Zone is defined as “a segment of a rail line within one or a number of consecutive public highway-rail (roadway) grade crossings at which locomotive horns are not routinely sounded.”
There are close to 700 Quiet Zones in communities across the nation. Oklahoma currently has Quiet Zones in Tulsa and Ponca City.
Doesn’t the train have to blow its horn for safety?
Under non-Quiet Zone circumstances, locomotive engineers must start blowing their horn at least 15 seconds in advance of all public-grade crossings. The horn must be sounded in a standardized patter of two long, one short, and one long blasts. The pattern must be repeated until the lead locomotive occupies the crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of the long and short blasts.
In a Quiet Zone, railroads are no longer required to sound those blasts. Train horns may still be used in emergency situations, or to comply with other federal regulations or railroad operating rules.
To establish a Quiet Zone, cities must implement Supplemental Safety Measures (SSMs) to ensure the continued safety of the crossings. SSMs include additional gates, medians, curbs, lights, signals, road marks and other upgrades.
The upgrades that come with an established Quiet Zone are extremely effective, according to the Federal Highway Administration.
I saw a study that said the FRA decided Quiet Zones caused a 62 percent increase in accidents.
That study was from 2000, when states created and regulated their own Quiet Zones. In 2005, the FRA took over jurisdiction of Quiet Zones, and mandated significantly upgraded Supplemental Safety Measures (SSMs) in 2006. Based on available data, the upgraded SSMs are doing the job very well.
I love train horns. How loud can they really be?
The minimum sound level for a train horn is 96 decibels. The maximum is 110 decibels. To put that in context, the National Institute for Occupation Safety and Health recommends exposure to noise over 100 decibels be limited to 15 minutes per day.
The City of Norman bans noise from building sites above 75 decibels between the hours of 7 a.m. and 9 p.m. Unfortunately, train horns did not keep construction hours.
Productions at the Sooner Theatre and events at The Depot won’t be impacted by the train horn and conversations on Main Street downtown won’t have to pause until the train horn stops.
The City of Norman has installed signs to warn pedestrians that train horns will not blow at the crossings. In addition, there are audible warning measures at the crossings with a bell that sounds when the crossing controls are activated.
Please note that pedestrians should only cross at grade crossing locations. Crossing in other locations is considered trespassing and is subject to fines.
Does all this mean we will never hear a train horn again in Norman?
A Quiet Zone does not guarantee the horn will never sound. Train crews still have discretion to sound the horn. Train horns may be sounded in emergency situations or to comply with other railroad or FRA rules even within a Quiet Zone. Under federal regulations, engineers must sound the horn to warn railroad maintenance employees or contractors working on the tracks.
The Quiet Zone impacts the routine sounding of the train horn.
Residents who live near the north and south City limits may still hear the train horn as it sounds in the crossings outside of our city limits.
Engineers have calculated how much time, on average, each day a train horn was sounding in Norman based on the average number of trains, the length of time the train horn sounds, and the number of crossings in the community. The train horns have sounded approximately 2 1/2 hours each day.
Did you know the default position for crossing gates is actually down? So if the power goes out, they drop as a safety measure.