The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

October 11, 2013

Panel OKs railroad quiet zone study


---- — DANVILLE — Two studies through the Danville Area Transportation Study right now are focusing on railroad crossings and the noise from trains.

Next week, city council members will consider approving an engineering agreement for safety evaluation and funding identification for possible improvements for various at-grade railroad crossings. DATS selected Hanson Professional Services of Springfield to perform the study at a cost of $22,178.

On Thursday, the DATS Policy Committee approved conducting a quiet zone feasibility study. The cost is estimated at $40,000, utilizing planning fund dollars DATS receives. DATS director Jaclyn Marganski said she’ll send out a request for proposals as soon as possible.

The quiet zone feasibility study will assess mainline railroads through Catlin and Danville for the feasibility of creating continuous or discrete railroad quiet zones. The study could run from January to June 2014.

Study goals include: mitigation techniques to minimize the number and severity of accidents within the DATS area and mitigate the negative effects of traffic, such as cut-through traffic and excessive noise, on residential neighborhoods.

The study will try to address perceived noise problems and look at general costs for a solution, such as installing gates at crossings to prevent vehicles from going around them.

Marganski said the study will gather traffic and train volumes and determine “do we have a problem and do we need to do something?” She said the study will determine if full or partial quiet zones are feasible.

Marganski said the federal government allows local governments to establish quiet zones. Quiet zones remove the requirement for train operators to routinely sound their horn at all train crossings. The sounding of train horns at crossings is regulated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

According to the FRA, new federal rules were adopted in 2005, mandating a consistent pattern and decibel level of horn sounding at public at-grade crossings. The federal rules now require that all trains sound horns between 96 and 110 decibels at all public crossings. Train horn use is now more consistent than prior to 2005, which results in an increase in horn noise over the previous discretionary horn sounding condition.

Under the “Train Horn Rule,” locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings. If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound the horn until it is within a quarter mile of the crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration.

There is a “good faith” exception for locations where engineers can’t precisely estimate their arrival at a crossing and begin to sound the horn no more than 25 seconds before arriving at the crossing.

Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of two long blasts, one short blast and one long blast. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of long and short blasts.

In a quiet zone, railroads have been directed to cease the routine sounding of their horns when approaching public highway-rail grade crossings. Train horns may still be used in emergency situations or to comply with other federal regulations or railroad operating rules. Localities desiring to establish a quiet zone are first required to mitigate the increased risk caused by the absence of a horn.

A new quiet zone using supplemental safety measures must be at least a half mile in length along the railroad tracks and must have at a minimum, flashing lights and gates in place at each public crossing.

Danville Urban Services Director David Schnelle told aldermen earlier this week that there has been a longtime “strong community desire” to look at quiet zones. The number of trains going through the city has more than doubled since the mid-1990s, he said.

Schnelle said other communities have had success with quiet zones.

The blowing of whistles and idling train noise in residential areas, such as near Townway and Turtle Run Golf Course, have been issues in the city for years, Ward 7 Alderman Bill Black reminded city officials earlier this week.