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Trains are a common nuisance in many communities, and solving the problem can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Despite the recent media coverage of train accidents and spills, the most enduring issue is the constant whistling that many that live next to train tracks deal with on a daily basis.
Trains sound their whistles (or technically, horns) as a safety precaution. The FRA, Federal Railroad Administration, has made it a requirement for trains to sound their whistles between 15-20 seconds prior to entering a public highway-rail grade crossing (if traveling greater than 60 mph, the engineer will sound the horn at ¼ mile).
The train whistle is kept above a minimum level of 90 decibels, and below of a max of 110 decibels. This will typically be well above the next loudest noise in the area, making them clearly audible to all in the vicinity. The train horn is blown in a 2 long, 1 short, 1 long pattern, to distinguish it from any other noises the observer may hear.
Quiet Zones from Train Noise
The good news? Citizens are able to request a new “Quiet Zone” in their area. In the quiet zone, a “no horn” restriction can be initiated, which would remove those pesky horns. If you are interested in creating a quiet zone, you can follow these instructions. The major requirements are proving that the sound is significantly loud and debilitating in the proximity, and taking action to improve train safety in the area. These actions can include adding additional crossing signs, crossing arms, and local educational programs. Finally, you need to show that there have been no “relevant collisions” (as defined by the FRA) in order to qualify for Automatic Approval.
In some areas, “no horn” restrictions are being lifted due to the new legislation. For these areas, you can appeal to keep the ban in place, and you have up to 2 years to install the new, necessary safety equipment.
In an effort to prevent accidents, trains would still be required to sound their horns when a station (or crossing) lacks up-to-date safety devices. Often times, engineers work on the tracks late at night to minimize schedule delays. In these cases, the trains sound their horns as a warning of an approaching train, reducing the risk of serious injury. The law would still require blowing the horn prior to passing men working on the rail site.
Successes in Train Sound Prevention
In Powder Springs, the Cobb County Board of Commissioners approved a Quiet Zone (QZ) in the center of town, where it became a true impact to quality of life. They paid for the updated sensors and safety equipment to qualify the QZ with money from a railroad settlement several years earlier.
In Illinois, where 64% of people live within a mile of rail crossings, the state has seen a dramatic increase in public support for Quiet Zones. They have been established across the state, where citizens complained that they couldn’t sleep or carry on focused activities.
Creating a QZ can sometimes require community
support, and if this isn’t feasible, or it’s just the distant sound of a horn giving you fits, you have other options as well.
Train Whistle Soundproofing
The good news from a soundproofing standpoint is that train horns are usually high frequency (you hear this as a high pitch), giving them a shorter wavelength. Consequently, they are easier to block with soundproofing curtains and other noise insulation products. The AcousticCurtainTM, for instance, creates a transmission loss of around 35 dB at high frequencies. Since the train noise quickly diminishes over distance
Other factors that affect how loud the noise sounds in your home include distance from the train, fencing between train and your home, and any other sound-reflecting objects, such as tall trees and shrubs.
By installing sound insulating curtains, along with exterior noise reflecting landscaping and fencing, you can significantly reduce the sound of train horns in your locality. If you talk to neighbors and find that the train noise is causing a broader issue, then we encourage you to get involved locally and create a Quiet Zone in your neighborhood!