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Feds To Review Train Horn Rule, Quiet Zones In 2015

Grace Hood
A stretch of tracks on the east side of Greeley, Colorado.

Colorado residents and businesses near railroad tracks can find train horns loud and disruptive. There's a way for cities to muffle the noise, but the process can be expensive and time-consuming. Now a growing chorus of dissatisfaction may lead to some change.

A spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration has told KUNC that they will review the train horn rule in 2015. The rule encompasses so-called quiet zones, a section of train tracks where engineers decrease the frequency at which they sound their horns.

In a written statement, a spokesman for the Federal Railroad Administration acknowledged that obtaining funding, engineering and constructing quiet zones can take "a significant amount of time."

Right now trains are required to blow their horns for at least 15 seconds before all public road crossings. The 2005 rule has decreased fatalities at intersections by more than 37 percent, but the constant train horn in cities like Fort Collins can disrupt business and daily life.

Establishing a quiet zone is something Fort Collins has been working toward since 2009. Other towns like Windsor, Greeley and Longmont are also in different phases of the process. Establishing the zone can take time because it typically involves multiple steps, construction and visits from the Federal Railroad Administration.

Credit Grace Hood / KUNC

The calls for change started back in 2013, when Senator Michael Bennet met with Northern Colorado leaders, reviewing the challenges they've encountered with setting up quiet zones.

The bottom line, said Bennet, is that the FRA needs to give communities more options.

In November 2014, the National League of Cities adopted a resolution [.pdf] calling for the FRA to re-examine the train horn rule for "safe and more effective implementation of quiet zones."

Michael Wallace, program director for community and economic development with the National League of Cities, said working out the quiet zone details is complicated for most cities. Towns are further burdened by having to fund required lights and gates at intersections.

"The onus is really on the local tax base to be able to figure out how to fund these major improvements — and these are multiple millions in improvements that you have to put in," he said.

Ultimately, there needs to be a new funding stream for cities and towns to tap in to in order to fund quiet zones, said Wallace.

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