Shush! – you’ve entered a railroad quiet zone

Roanoke Railroad map - Source:

Roanoke Railroad map – Source:

Following yesterday’s list of the states with the most and least number of railroad quiet zones, at the end of this blogpost is a list of those metropolitan areas in the United States with the most quiet zones. Texas has four metropolitan areas in the list, while Wisconsin has three, with parts of three others on its border (Chicago, Twin Cities, and Duluth-Superior).

Quiet zones are a potential tool in an urban planner’s regulatory quiver for reducing the community’s overall noise pollution, by limiting the use of railroad train whistles/horns, particularly at night. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) adopted its most recent set of regulations pertaining quiet zones in 2006.

Only those crossings which have updated signal/automatic gate arm and crossing technologies, proper signage along the tracks for train engineers, and the appropriate street signage to warn drivers that they are entering a train horn-free zone may be declared a horn-free zone. Other quiet zone factors include:

  • A minimum length of 1/2 mile is required for each quiet zone and the minimum separation between quiet zones is also 1/2 mile.
  • A quiet zone may include one or more consecutive public, private and pedestrian crossings.
  • Flashing-light signals, half-roadway gates, constant-warning-time circuitry, and appropriate signage are required for all public crossings.
  • Additional minimum qualifying conditions are determined by the level of risk, as calculated by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).


Given the number of communities that either were grandfathered in or have established new quiet zones, the data listed below are particularly fascinating for those metropolitan areas that are not included, such as railroad centers like New York City, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Omaha, Chattanooga, New Orleans, Denver, and Los Angeles, or places considered eco-friendly like San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Seattle, Tucson, Boulder, Eugene, Ann Arbor, and Portland.

According to Michigan’s quiet zone coordinator, the most significant impediment to establishing more quiet zones in the state is the cost of adding updated railroad crossing technologies, which can run upwards of $200,000 per crossing! In many cases, thie is largely the community’s responsibility. For smaller communities, jurisdictions with tight budgets, or those places with limited control over their road network, such as townships, the installation cost can be prohibitive.

Here’s the list of those metropolitan areas with the most quiet zones:

  • Chicago, IL-IN-WI = 48
  • Dallas-Fort Worth, TX = 47
  • Twin Cities, MN-WI = 39
  • Boston, MA = 28
  • Duluth-Superior, MN-WI = 15
  • St. Louis, MO-IL = 15
  • Appleton-Oshkosh, WI = 14
  • Orange County, CA = 12
  • San Antonio, TX = 12
  • Roanoke-Blacksburg, VA = 11
  • Houston, TX = 10
  • Milwaukee, WI = 10
  • Atlanta, GA = 9
  • Green Bay, WI = 9
  • Louisville, KY-IN = 9
  • Portland, ME = 8
  • Austin, TX = 7
  • Palm Beach County, FL = 7

SOURCE: Federal Railroad Administration

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1 Response to Shush! – you’ve entered a railroad quiet zone

  1. Rick–interesting postscript to your blog on quiet zones is that on 11/29 FRA issued a news brief I subscribe to concerning the following announcement:

    SUBJECT: Emergency Preparedness, Train Horn Noise
    CONTACT: Kevin Thompson
    PHONE: 202-493-6024
    KEYWORDS: Nationwide Significant Risk Threshold (NSRT); emergency lighting systems
    FRA Adjustment of Risk Threshold for Establishing Quiet Zones May Aid Communities. The Federal Railroad Administration’s annual adjustment of the Nationwide Significant Risk Threshold (NSRT) may provide some relief for communities struggling to establish or maintain quiet zones while continuing to address critical safety issues. FRA developed this index to allow all Quiet Zone applicants to fully assess the risks of silencing train horns and pursue the additional safety engineering improvements needed to mitigate them. The addition of engineering improvements has played a significant part in the 34 percent decline of highway-rail grade crossing incidents over the past 10 years. The NSRT calculates permissible risk, based on an average of the risk indexes for gated public crossings nationwide, where train horns are routinely sounded. The Notice of Adjustment will be published in the Federal Register on November 26, 2013, and will also be posted on FRA’s website. Contact: Kevin Thompson (202) 493-6024.

    Paul Hamilton


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