In Your Corner: Train Rule Keeping Some Awake

By Ryan Elijah

March 11, 2011 Updated Mar 11, 2011 at 8:51 AM EDT

Some residents in Fort Wayne were surprised to learn that a federal law requires trains to sound their horns at crossings, even in the middle of the night. Our "In Your Corner" report discovered there is an option for those losing sleep.

The Kazmierzak family says their sleeping troubles began last year, as trains started sounding their horns at all hours of the night.

"we hear it almost everynight, 2, 3, 4 am", said Dawn Kazmierzak

Since the family's young daughter is awakened constantly, they went to great lengths to limit the sound. They've tried using fans and putting foam insulation and carpeting over the window. The family was surprised by the noise, since there are no train tracks near their home.

They determined the sounds were coming from railroad tracks that intersect with Homestead Road, nearly a mile away from their addition.

In 2005, the federal Train Horn Rule was established and each year it's updated. It requires engineers to sound their horns within a quarter-mile of all crossings for 15 seconds.

The federal law preempted local train ordinances and many communities like Bluffton got rid of them completely, but we found there is a rule called a quiet zone that communities have turned to to silence the horns.

"a number of places have implemented 'quiet zones', it's a growing trend" said Rob Kalut, spokesperson for the Federal Railroad Association.

In a quiet zone, trains will not sound their horns. Since safety is the main concern of the Department of the Transportation and the FRA, local communities are required to upgrade the crossings to offset the loss of horns, basically they need double crossing arms or barriers to prevent traffic from ignoring the signals. Under those standards, the Kazmierzak's signal, with only 2 lanes blocked, would need an upgrade

"there's the possibility of people driving around, which is why some communities have put in barriers to channelize traffic", said Rob Kalut with the FRA.

Early studies have shown that quiet zones are as safe as sounding horns, but they are expensive with costs averaging a few hundred thousand dollars and paid for by the owner of the road. In some cases a casino and condo association paid the bill.

The Kazmierzak's say some neighbors have turned to sleeping pills and other options to eliminate the noise, it appears pursuing a quiet zone could be the cure for their problem.
"it's got to be more than just our little neighborhood that's effected. I think there are more people, I just don't think they have an avenue to report their concerns", said Dawn Kazmierzak.

The quiet zone process involves an engineer working closely with the specific railroad companies and FRA officials. When approved, train engineers are notified not to sound their horns at that crossing. Along with crossing arms for all lanes, quiet zones can also consist of barriers and whistles that direct sound more directly toward the traffic and not surrounding homes.

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