Bennet, Udall Urge Changes to Train Horn Rule

Senators Urge Greater Flexibility for Communities to Create Quiet Zones

January 24, 2013

Colorado U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall are urging the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) to revisit its rule governing train horns. Revisiting the rule could result in more flexibility for local communities in Colorado and across the country, while continuing to ensure public safety.

Based on feedback from city leaders throughout the state, the Senators are requesting the FRA consider a review of the requirements to create quiet zones around railroad crossings in order to promote economic development while maintaining the safety of these crossings.

“Municipal leaders from Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Greeley and Windsor, Colorado have expressed concerns to our offices that the train horn noise is a nuisance for local residents and that it stifles economic development by discouraging businesses and housing developers from building and locating in the heart of their communities. As you may expect, train horn noise impacts almost everyone in communities where the railroad runs right through the center of town and where the business and residential area is spread over a relatively small area,” the Senators wrote in a letter to FRA Administrator Joseph Szabo.

The train horn rule was established in 2005 to promote safety at railroad crossings with some flexibility built in for communities to create quiet zones. However, the steps that these communities must take to establish the quiet zones in order to comply with the rule are often onerous and prohibitively expensive. A number of Colorado municipalities have estimated that the studies and new infrastructure necessary under the rule could cost millions of dollars. Bennet and Udall plan to work with the FRA to add greater flexibility to the rule while continuing to prioritize public safety, moving away from a one-size-fits-all approach.

“Although the underlying rule provides a quiet zone exemption, the communities listed above have indicated that the complexity of analyzing each different crossing and the costs associated with qualifying for an exemption are prohibitive for many municipalities in the state impacted by the rule. While we strongly support the Train Horn Rule’s goal of reducing accidents at highway-rail grade crossings, we are concerned that it may prevent certain municipalities from being able to create quiet zones without incurring prohibitive costs. A more flexible rule could enable these communities to craft a solution that ensures safety yet also reduces noise and promotes long-term economic growth,” Bennet and Udall wrote.

"Municipal leaders across the state appreciate the leadership of Senators Bennet and Udall in recognizing this as an important issue to cities and towns," stated Sam Mamet, Executive Director, of the Colorado Municipal League.

Full Text of the Letter:

January 23, 2013

Dear Administrator Szabo:

We write to request that the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reopen the rulemaking process on the Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings (hereafter the “Train Horn Rule”). This would give the affected communities the chance to provide further input on the rule’s impact, while continuing to ensure the safety of their residents.

As you know, the Train Horn Rule was published in 2005 and was designed to promote safety while providing flexibility to communities negatively impacted by the requirement that trains sound their horns at certain times and decibel levels when traveling through municipalities. The 2005 rule allowed municipalities to apply to be a part of so-called “quiet zones” where they could be exempted from train horn sounding requirements when certain conditions were met.

Municipal leaders from Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Greeley and Windsor, Colorado have expressed concerns to our offices that the train horn noise is a nuisance for local residents and that it stifles economic development by discouraging businesses and housing developers from building and locating in the heart of their communities. As you may expect, train horn noise impacts almost everyone in communities where the railroad runs right through the center of town and where the business and residential area is spread over a relatively small area. These impacts are amplified in downtown areas, which are focusing on redevelopment and urban renewal, as well as on creating healthy, walkable neighborhoods.

Although the underlying rule provides a quiet zone exemption, the communities listed above have indicated that the complexity of analyzing each different crossing and the costs associated with qualifying for an exemption are prohibitive for many municipalities in the state impacted by the rule.

While we strongly support the Train Horn Rule’s goal of reducing accidents at highway-rail grade crossings, we are concerned that it may prevent certain municipalities from being able to create quiet zones without incurring prohibitive costs. A more flexible rule could enable these communities to craft a solution that ensures safety yet also reduces noise and promotes long-term economic growth.

The Office of Management and Budget recently invited comment on the rule regarding how information and data relevant to the rule’s implementation is collected, with the goal of streamlining the process of collecting information from affected communities.

While this is an encouraging step, we believe the rule itself should allow for additional flexibility. It is therefore our hope that the FRA will consider re-opening the rule in order to consider further changes.

Thank you in advance for your consideration.

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