Bennet, Udall Welcome Potential for Progress on Requests for Quiet Zones
U.S. Senators Michael Bennet and Mark Udall welcomed remarks today from Federal Railroad (FRA) Administration leadership that the agency is interested in working with Congress to ensure its train-noise and quiet-zone rules protect public safety while also work for Colorado communities.
At the request of Colorado’s U.S. Senators, Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) today asked FRA Administrator Joseph C. Szabo if the agency was willing to work with communities to provide flexibility around train horn regulations and the restrictions for implementing quiet zones. McCaskill’s question came during a hearing of the Senate Subcommittee on Surface Transportation and Merchant Marine Infrastructure, Safety, and Security. Szabo told McCaskill that the FRA would be willing to adopt the highest level of flexibility as long as public safety concerns can be met.
“We are open to the utmost, highest level of flexibility provided that an equivalent level of safety can be achieved,” Szabo said. “That’s the goal. That’s all we need is that good science be applied to show that whatever creative approach a community is choosing to use will generate an equivalent or superior level of safety.”
Bennet and Udall urged the committee raise the issue at today’s hearing on behalf of the Colorado.
“Administrator Szabo’s response is encouraging, and I thank Senator McCaskill for her responsiveness to our concerns,” Bennet said. “The FRA has expressed a willingness to work with community leaders in Colorado to find common sense, cost effective solutions that successfully encourage economic development and ensure public safety. We’re looking forward to working together with Colorado communities and the FRA.”
"I am thankful Sen. McCaskill raised this important issue on our behalf during today's subcommittee hearing. This is an issue affecting communities throughout Colorado and one we need addressed," Udall said. "I am pleased the Federal Railroad Administration testified today that it is inclined to work with cities to give Colorado communities the flexibility they need to effectively reduce train noise and maintain public safety.”
Under current rules, established by the FRA in 2005, communities can apply to create “quiet zones” where train horn rules are relaxed if the community puts other specific barriers and warning signals in place to alert motorists and pedestrians. Unfortunately, the requirements that communities must meet to establish quiet zones are complicated and often too expensive. A number of Colorado municipalities, some with multiple crossings in their downtown areas, have estimated that the studies and infrastructure necessary to comply with FRA regulations could cost millions of dollars.
In January, Bennet and Udall urged Szabo to revisit the rules governing train horns to provide local communities with flexibility.
A Full Transcript of Senator McCaskill’s question and Administrator Szabo’s response is below:
Senator Claire McCaskill: I’d like to also talk about the train horn rule. I promised one of my colleagues who is not on this committee that has strong feelings about this – Senator Bennet from Colorado – that I would inquire about this. I know that there is a workaround for communities for quiet zones, but can you talk a little bit about the flexibility on those workarounds and whether or not we have embraced sufficient flexibility where we are obviously protecting safety. Obviously the horn thing is a huge problem for many communities that are quote unquote bedroom communities and what is being required of them in terms of a workaround I think in some instances may be slightly too onerous, but I’m certainly willing and open to hear your views on it.
FRA Administrator Szabo: Thank you for that question because it’s a great one. As I said at the opening, I’d like to remind you I’m a former mayor of what was a railroad community – two major rail yards, five railroads slicing through town. So I lived, both as a citizen as well as a municipal leader, these challenges on a daily basis. We are open to the utmost, highest level of flexibility provided that an equivalent level of safety can be achieved. That’s the goal. That’s all we need is that good science be applied to show that whatever creative approach a community is choosing to use will generate an equivalent or superior level of safety. There is no question if you take a look at the statistics that the whistleblower regulation has worked – how significantly grade crossing accidents have come down since my agency implemented that regulation about a decade ago. We’re here today talking about a tragic grade crossing accident in Baltimore. So we need to make sure that – you bet we’ll provide flexibility. Our goal is to be performance-based in our approach to safety. What we care about is the outcome, not telling you that you must do it this one and only way.