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G Line Train Horns And Quiet Zones: What You Need to Know

  • Federal Law requires all trains that travel on or adjacent to freight tracks to sound their horns when the train approaches a railroad crossing. This falls under the Federal Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222).
  • Quiet Zones are railroad line segments where train operators don’t have to sound their train horns at the crossing on a routine basis. Horns will continue to be used for emergency situations and if there are maintenance workers along the tracks, as required by federal regulations.
  • Quiet zones are not guaranteed to be implemented by opening day on any corridor. They will be established once all regulatory approvals are processed
  • Until quiet zones are established, locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings.
  • If a train is traveling faster than 60 mph, engineers will not sound their horn until the vehicle is within a quarter-mile of a crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds.
  • A “good faith” exception is granted for locations where engineers can’t precisely estimate their arrival at a crossing and begin to sound their horn no more than 25 seconds before arriving at the crossing.
  • Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of two long blasts, one short blast and one long blast. The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the duration of long and short blasts.
  • The minimum volume level required for train horns is 96 decibels, and the maximum level is 110 decibels.
  • Federal regulations require cities and counties to file an application to request a quiet zone. In 2007, the RTD board of directors adopted the Responsible Rail Amendment, which calls for active involvement from RTD in helping communities establish quiet zones along commuter rail lines.
  • Even after quiet zones are approved, operators are obligated to sound their train horns in any event they consider “unsafe” or if maintenance workers are along the tracks. Likewise, at any time the Federal Railroad Administration deems it necessary, quiet zones can be eliminated and horn use resumed due to an increase in unsafe incidents at any crossing.

G Line Train Horns and Quiet Zone Frequently Asked Questions

How is testing taking place on the G Line with no end date in sight?

The testing that is underway is a complete review of all systems and train operations. A large part of this process examines adherence to regulations and evaluates how systems and operators consistently meet regulatory and safety standards. Public safety and efficient operations are top priorities for RTD; our contractor, Denver Transit Partners (DTP); and the regulatory agencies that review our work. We understand that the potential for train horns sounding at all hours may be frustrating for some residents and businesses along the alignment. We are eager to deliver and certify crossings so RTD and the local jurisdictions can jointly request of the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) permission to implement quiet zones. While we don’t know when all standards and systems will be certified, all parties involved are proceeding at an appropriate, responsible pace. RTD will provide more information about the testing process as we have it, and we encourage the public to consult our website and social media platforms for such updates.

What is the relationship between crossing certification and testing?

Part of the testing process involves the FRA and the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) evaluating and certifying each rail crossing. RTD is the first commuter rail system in the United States tying new at-grade crossings to positive train control (PTC), a complex signaling and communications technology that is required by the FRA to be implemented on all railroads by 2020. PTC implementation – per Positive Train Control Rule 49 CFR Part 236, Subpart I –
requires testing specific to the conditions at each individual crossing before it can be certified. RTD and DTP are working closely with our state and federal regulators to complete the certification of the crossings, after which local jurisdictions and RTD can jointly request to the FRA that quiet zones be implemented.

What steps need to be completed to certify commuter rail crossings and enable local jurisdictions to apply for quiet zones?

The process calls for testing and certification of all crossings to be completed and approved by the Colorado Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) before requests for quiet zone implementation can be evaluated and approved by the FRA. Quiet zone applications must be submitted by local jurisdictions for review and determination by the FRA. RTD and DTP support this process by working with the CPUC, FRA and local jurisdictions to meet the requirements for quiet zone requests.

Are horns sounding because something is wrong or unsafe?

No. As is required for any commuter rail or freight train system in the country, FRA regulations (Federal Train Horn Rule 49 CFR Part 222) require that train operators along the G Line and the University of Colorado A Line alignment sound train horns at the crossings. This requirement stands until all rail crossings are certified by the CPUC, after which local jurisdictions can file quiet zone applications with the FRA. The horns are a standard of safety for pedestrians and motorists that must remain in place until quiet zone requirements are met and approved for implementation by the FRA.

Why are train horns necessary if there are crossing attendants?

Under Federal Train Horn Rule 49 CFR Part 222, train horns are required to be used at all times. Crossing attendants are in place to protect the crossings during testing as required under Federal Train Horn Rule 49 CFR 234, which does not exempt the use of horns.
The crossings are using positive train control, a complex signaling and communications technology that is required by the FRA to be implemented on all railroads by 2020. PTC is relatively new, and implementation requires testing specific to the conditions at each individual crossing before it can be certified. RTD and DTP are working closely with regulatory agencies to complete the certification of crossings on the G Line, after which a crossing attendant removal plan can be implemented. Such a plan was successfully used by DTP on the removal earlier this summer of the crossing attendants on the University of Colorado A Line.