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Understanding Railroad Quiet Zones

In 2008, the City of Clinton in accordance with Federal regulations took the appropriate measures to minimize the need for the sounding of train horns within the City.

Over the years, many residents have expressed their displeasure at the sounding of train horns at rail crossings. This confusion about the authority of the City to “outlaw” train horns has become a frequent source of complaints to City Hall.

However, local governments can make no ordinance that would interfere or contradict with federal law.

To clarify, the railroad quiet zone is an agreement that the City of Clinton made with the railroad. Due to federal regulations made by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), trains running through the city have to abide by the federal laws regarding the train horn.

In order to establish a quiet zone, municipalities take steps to limit the incursion of vehicles and persons at rail crossings when a train is present. Upgrades to crossings are made at the expense of the municipality, with the approval of the railroad that owns the tracks.

Tools used to limit incursions and establish a quiet zone include upgraded crossing arms, as well as ballards/islands to prevent vehicles from driving around the gates and closing of some crossings to traffic. All of these tools are meant to protect the public safety, while limiting the need for horns to sound.

The quiet zone does not prevent the train engineer from sounding the train horn when necessary. A train must be permitted to sound the horn if a car, human, or other objects are on the tracks and pose a potential threat to life or property.

According to federal law, trains must blow their horns when carrying hazardous materials, when other railroad personnel are present at a crossing or other necessary occurances as determined by the conductor.

The city has taken measures to install signs and barriers before the crossing when a train is coming to limit the need for a horn to be sounded, but those measures do not preclude the horn from sounding.

A quiet zone is an exemption from FRA rules which requires a train to sound its horn as it approaches a crossing. A quiet zone is a stretch of at least a mile and a half that may have several public grade crossings at which train horns are not routinely sounded. However, trains must sound their horns if something is on the tracks or they are transporting dangerous cargo, regardless of the quiet zone.

Remember, public safety is paramount to the operation of a railroad quiet zone. If at any point, the safety of the train operator or the public in general is at risk, a horn will be sounded.