Federal Railroad Administration's Train Horn & Quiet Zone Rule

Operating a safe and efficient railroad is Union Pacific’s top priority. Maintaining the safety of our employees, our customers and the general public is at the core of everything we do. For everyone’s safety, federal regulation requires locomotive horns be sounded for 15-20 seconds before entering all public grade crossings, but not more than one-quarter mile in advance. This federal requirement preempts any state or local laws regarding the use of train horns at public crossings.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) required pattern for blowing the horn is two long, one short, and one long sounding horn, repeated as necessary until the locomotive clears the crossing. Locomotive engineers retain the authority to vary this pattern as necessary for crossings in close proximity and are allowed to sound the horn in emergency situations.

The federal regulation concerning train horns is officially known as the FRA’s Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway/Rail Grade Crossings and became effective June 24, 2005.

Quiet Zones

Union Pacific believes quiet zones compromise the safety of railroad employees, customers, and the general public. While the railroad does not endorse quiet zones, it does comply with provisions outlined in the federal law.

Federal regulations provide public authorities the option to maintain and/or establish quiet zones provided certain supplemental or alternative safety measures are in place and the crossing accident rate meets FRA standards. There are six types of quiet zones:

  • A Pre-Rule Quiet Zone (Full or Partial) is a quiet zone that was established before October 9, 1996, and in place as of December 18, 2003.
  • An Intermediate Quiet Zone is a quiet zone that was established after October 9, 1996, but before December 18, 2003.
  • New Quiet Zones are those that do not meet the criteria for Pre-Rule or Intermediate Quiet Zones.
  • Partial Quiet Zonesare quiet zones where the horn is silenced for only a portion of the day, typically between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
  • Full Quiet Zones are zones where the horn is silenced 24 hours per day.

In line with federal regulations, public authorities wanting to maintain Pre-Rule or Intermediate Quiet Zones were required to submit a Notice of Continuation in accordance with the rule by June 3, 2005. Failure to comply with this requirement will result in the sounding of the train horn beginning Friday, June 24, 2005, and continuing for 21 days from the date the Notice of Continuation is properly filed.

Quiet Zones in the six-county Chicago, Illinois Region (Cook, DuPage, Lake, Kane, McHenry and Will Counties) which were in existence as of December 18, 2003, are currently exempted by the Final Rule.

Public authorities wishing to establish New Quiet Zones must submit Notices of Intent and Establishment in accordance with the rule. Public authorities should refer to the Final Rule for specific guidelines on the quiet zone establishment process. The Final Rule and FRA explanatory materials can be found on the FRA’s website.

Union Pacific’s Involvement in the Quiet Zone Establishment Process

In order to maintain high public safety standards, it is critical and beneficial to have the perspective gained from the railroad’s experience and expertise concerning quiet zones. Union Pacific representatives will participate in diagnostic meetings and provide the necessary railroad information for quiet zone projects on Union Pacific lines, as required in the Final Rule.

The Final Rule outlines two types of safety improvement options for upgrading a quiet zone to meet FRA safety standards:

  • Supplemental Safety Measures (SSMs) or
  • Alternative Safety Meaures (ASMs).

Supplemental Safety Measures include the following:

  • Four-Quadrant Gate Systems
  • Medians or Channelization Devices
  • One-Way Streets with Gates
  • Permanent Closure

Alternative Safety Measures include:

  • Modified SSMs (i.e. Non-Complying Medians, Three-Quadrant Gates, etc.)
  • Engineered ASMs (i.e. Geometric Improvements)
  • Non-Engineered ASMs (i.e. Programmed Enforcement, Photo Enforcement, Education, etc.)

Union Pacific encourages the use of Engineered SSMs, but suggests that communities postpone taking any costly or irreversible action until it has been determined which additional safety measures are warranted.

General Costs of Safety Measures

Establishing quiet zones not only creates a public safety risk but also is a potential cost burden to taxpayers. Public authorities are responsible for the cost of preliminary engineering, construction, maintenance and replacement of active warning devices or their components, including wayside horn systems installed at crossings to meet quiet zone standards.

Public authorities are required to execute a preliminary engineering agreement with Union Pacific to reimburse the railroad for all costs related to quiet zone meetings, diagnostics and notice reviews. If it is determined that railroad work is required, public authorities are required to enter into a separate construction and maintenance agreement to guarantee reimbursement to the railroad for all actual costs associated with the installation and maintenance of the railroad improvements.

Examples of railroad improvement costs as estimated by Union Pacific:

  • Four-Quadrant Gate Systems - $300,000 to $500,000
  • Basic Active Warning System* - $185,000 to $400,000
    (*Includes Flashing Lights and Gates, Constant Warning Time, Power Out Indicator and Cabin.)
  • Basic Inter-Connect - $5,000 to $15,000
  • Annual Maintenance - $4,000 to $10,000

Contact Information

Notices of Intent, Notices of Establishment or other general communication related to quiet zones should be sent to:

Union Pacific Railroad
Engineering-Public Projects
Attn: Quiet Zone Establishment
1400 Douglas Street, MS 910
Omaha, NE 68179-0910

Requests for diagnostic assistance should be directed to the appropriate Public Projects state contact.

Union Pacific Project Agreements

  • Preliminary Engineering Agreement
  • Quiet Zone Warning Devices Agreement
    (for grade crossing signal improvements)