FRA gathers data on locomotive horn regulations

Federal Railroad Administrator Jolene M. Molitoris announced on April 3 a series of public hearings were held on proposed rulemaking and draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) concerning the use of locomotive train horns at highway-rail grade crossings.

This hearing gave the public an opportunity to provide oral presentations on the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and DEIS.

There were four scheduled public hearings in Illinois and Ohio: April 25 at Lyons Township High School; April 26 at the Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago; April 27 at the Federal Aviation Administration Building in Des Plaines, Ill.; and May 1 at Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, Ohio.

The agency also held public hearings in California, the District of Columbia, Florida, Massachusetts, Wisconsin, Indiana, and Oregon.

The rule, proposed in January by the U.S. Department of Transportation's FRA, was written in response to a law enacted by Congress in 1994 requiring train horns be sounded when a train approaches and enters a public highway-rail grade crossing unless certain exceptions are met.

Congress gave FRA the authority to exempt categories of rail operations or categories of highway rail grade crossing if there is not a significant risk of death or personal injury, the use of the horn is impractical, or supplementary measures fully compensate for the absence of the warning provided by the horn.

The proposed rule describes the safety measures that a community may employ to fully compensate for the absence of the warning provided by the horn and establish a quiet zone. These measures include the use of four quadrant gates, channelization devices or crossing closures at highway-rail crossings or photo enforcement to deter violators. The rule also proposes an upper volume limit for train horns.

Since the late 1800s, the sounding of horns or whistles in advance of grade crossings has been used as a universal safety precaution by railroads. Whistles were initially used to alert livestock on the track and to warn horse-drawn carriages and then automobiles at crossings.

The manner in which horns have been sounded at crossings (two longs, one short and one long) was standardized in 1938 and the operating practices associated with the sounding of whistles or horns were codified into railroad rule books. Today, audible warning devices are used primarily to warn motorists and for emergency situations. Most states have statutes or regulations requiring that trains provide an audible warning on approach to public highway-rail grade crossings.

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