Trains horns are an essential tool in keeping commuters, rail employees and the public safe when near railroad tracks and crossings, not only for Metra, but for the freight railroad companies that own and operate lines throughout the six-county region.
Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rules require locomotive engineers to sound train horns between 15 and 20 seconds, but no more than a quarter-mile, in advance of all public grade crossings. Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of two long, one short and one long blasts. Under the FRA mandate, the pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car is in the grade crossing.
This rule applies 24 hours a day, even if a crossing is equipped with lights, bells and crossing gates.
Train crews also may deem it necessary to sound a horn as a warning when there is a vehicle, person or animal near the tracks. Track construction, workers within 25 feet of a live track or malfunctioning crossings, also require crews to sound the horn.
FRA rules do allow communities to reduce train horn noise by establishing Quiet Zones. In a Quiet Zone, railroads are directed to cease the routine sounding of horns when approaching public grade crossings. However, it is important to understand that even if a community establishes a Quiet Zone, train horns may still be used workers within 25 feet of the track or in emergency situations, such as a person or a vehicle on the tracks, or at the discretion of the crew.
Communities that wish to establish a Quiet Zone are responsible for the process and associated costs, which may include improvements to the crossing or roadway design that mitigate the increased risk caused by the absence of a train horn. Communities are also responsible for the costs associated with maintaining the improvements. Only the FRA can grant a Quiet Zone. For more information on creating a Quiet Zone in your community, please visit the FRA’s website.