Aberdeen exploring restrictions on train horns through city limits

Aberdeen may be getting quieter, but not everywhere.

The Aberdeen City Council on Wednesday directed staff to look into creating a railroad “quiet zone” that would eliminate some of the horn sounds as trains move through the area.

The request to the council came from the Public Works Committee following complaints and concerns regarding the noise and “disruptive nature” of the train horns at the road/rail crossings. 

According to a “Guide to the Quite Zone Establishment Process” from the Federal Railroad Administration (Highway-Rail Crossing and Trespasser Programs Division) shared by the city, a governmental entity is permitted to create quiet zones.

It states that in 1994 when Congress enacted a law that initiated the regulation to require horns at public highway-rain grade crossings, but it gave communities the ability to create these quiet zones. The Train Horn Rule became effective nationwide in 2005.

The FRA states that federal regulation requires that locomotive horns begin sounding 15–20 seconds before entering public highway‐rail grade crossings, no more than one‐quarter mile in advance.

While the horn sounds may be most predominant in East Aberdeen as the railroad intersects with 7 road intersections, none with additional safety guards, reducing horns from the bluff through the State Street area might not be possible.

The prohibited use of train horns at quiet zones would only apply to trains when approaching and entering crossings and does not include train horn use within passenger stations or rail yards.

“Therefore, a more appropriate description of a designated quiet zone would be a “reduced train horn area.” 

If such a zone were created in Aberdeen, it would require the city to meet certain criteria.

“At a minimum, each public highway-rail crossing within a quiet zone must be equipped with active warning devices: flashing lights, gates, constant warning time devices (except in rare circumstances) and power out indicators.”

Much of the council discussion was in concern with not only the cost and staff time associated with a study but also the potential costs of implementing such a zone. This discussion comes as there is anticipated increases in Port of Grays Harbor activity that would bring additional trains through the area.

Even within a quiet zone, train horns would be allowed in emergency situations or to comply with other railroad or FRA rules. Quiet zone regulations would also not eliminate the use of locomotive bells at crossings. 

According to the FRA, the federal law does not provide funding to establish a zone or install safety measures, which they say, at the time of publication in 2013, could vary from $30,000 to more than $1 million depending on the number of crossings and type of improvements needed.