FRA Must Reopen Train Horn Rule Following Denial of Fort Collins Request

Bennet, Gardner, Polis Call on FRA Administrator to Open Rule as Promised

Fort Collins, CO - Following news today that the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) has initially denied the City of Fort Collins' application for a waiver from federal train horn noise regulations, Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner and Representative Jared Polis are calling on the FRA to immediately reopen the train horn noise rules. The lawmakers are urging FRA Administrator Sarah Feinberg to include more flexibility for Colorado communities like Fort Collins to establish quiet zones through town centers where train horn noise is stifling economic development.

"We understand and agree that safety is a top priority for your agency. Fort Collins officials have made significant investments in grade crossing improvements that have resulted in a strong safety record. They have also demonstrated a willingness to do more," the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Administrator Feinberg.

"Although this is not a complete denial and an opportunity remains for the City to reapply, we believe that today's decision is proof that the regulations need to be re-examined. Yet, we've been waiting for years for the agency to act. In 2013, the FRA announced its intent to reevaluate the Train Horn Rule, which your predecessor pledged to reopen it by the spring of 2015. After that deadline passed, the agency pledged to reopen it by the end of this year. Yet, two weeks before the end of the year, the FRA has not taken steps to reopen the rule. This timeline is unacceptable."

Communities throughout Colorado, including Fort Collins, Loveland, Longmont, Greeley, Commerce City, Arvada, Castle Rock, Westminster, and Windsor, have expressed concerns with the application of the FRA's train horn noise rules.

At the request of Bennet, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) asked former FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo if the agency was willing to work with communities to provide flexibility around train horn noise regulations. Szabo indicated a willingness to work with Congress to ensure its train-noise and quiet-zone rules protect public safety and work for Colorado communities trying to boost economic development near rail crossings.

Full Text of the Letter:

December 11, 2015

Ms. Sarah Feinberg
Administrator
Federal Railroad Administration
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
Washington, D.C. 20590

Dear Administrator Feinberg:

We write to express our extreme frustration and disappointment with the Federal Rail Administration (FRA)'s denial of the quiet zone waiver for the City of Fort Collins. The denial of the City's request underscores the need for the agency to re-open the Train Horn Rule immediately. The rule's lack of flexibility fails to account for the unique character of communities like Fort Collins.

We understand and agree that safety is a top priority for your agency.  Fort Collins officials have made significant investments in grade crossing improvements that have resulted in a strong safety record. They have also demonstrated a willingness to do more.

Although this is not a complete denial and an opportunity remains for the City to reapply, we believe that today's decision is proof that the regulations need to be re-examined. Yet, we've been waiting for years for the agency to act. In 2013, the FRA announced its intent to reevaluate the Train Horn Rule, which your predecessor pledged to reopen it by the spring of 2015. After that deadline passed, the agency pledged to reopen it by the end of this year. Yet, two weeks before the end of the year, the FRA has not taken steps to reopen the rule. This timeline is unacceptable.

A more flexible rule would allow communities like Fort Collins to develop a system that reduces disruptive train horn noise while maintaining high safety standards within their budget.

We appreciate your proposal to assemble an internal Fort Collins Working Group within the U.S. Department of Transportation to further assist the City with next steps. However, the working group will be meaningless without the involvement of community officials who are working every day to ensure the safety of their residents. We urge you to include city officials in your discussions from the outset to ensure the working group is as constructive as possible.

Finally, we also reiterate our request that you and your staff visit Northern Colorado, to see first-hand the effect of train horns on these communities. You will also see how city officials and residents are working to manage rail traffic as it moves through the center of their towns. We believe a visit will demonstrate how the train horn rule is stifling economic development and why an improved safety regulation with greater flexibility is necessary.

We look forward to your reply on when the rule will be re-opened, when the internal working group will convene and how it will include city officials, and when you and your staff will visit community leaders in Northern Colorado.

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