State Journal-Register

December 18, 2003

Changes proposed in train whistle ban


WASHINGTON - Communities seeking some peace and quiet will be able to keep their train whistle bans if they can show the crossings are relatively safe or implement additional safety measures, the Federal Railroad Administration proposed Wednesday.

Communities without whistle bans also might hear less noise because the proposal would require railroads to turn down the volume.

"This rule means less noise for millions of Americans living near railroad crossings and improved safety for everyone driving over the tracks," said Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta.

Illinois lawmakers had protested an earlier federal proposal requiring trains to sound their horns at all public crossings except those with expensive, state-of-the-art safety equipment, saying it would reduce property values, force costly purchases of safety equipment and disturb nearby residents.

Illinois has about 900 crossings where train whistles are banned at least part of the day, more than any other state.

As suburbs have grown out and around existing tracks, the train whistle has increased as a source of irritation for residents. The new rule should reduce noise for 3.4 million of the 9.3 million Americans affected by train whistle noise, federal officials said.

Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., praised the new rule Wednesday, calling it a "common-sense approach to safety at rail-grade crossings."

A pilot program in Illinois, including Decatur, aims at improving rail-crossing safety through increased awareness and enforcement.

Prompted by public safety concerns, Congress in 1994 ordered the FRA to require train whistles be blown when approaching any of the nation's 150,000 crossings.

But the rule was delayed three years ago when Durbin, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Yorkville, and others temporarily blocked it in a funding bill.

The new rule, scheduled to take effect Dec. 18, 2004, would exempt cities and towns with whistle bans already in place if they can prove their crossings are relatively safe. Others have five years to implement alternatives such as roadside warning devices that would direct sound to motorists and not houses along the tracks.

About two-thirds of the 2,000 communities that have whistle bans have crossings safe enough to avoid adding extra precautions. They'll simply need permission from the federal government.

For the first time, the proposal would limit the volume of train whistles to 110 decibels. And it would require trains to sound their whistles 15 seconds before arriving at an intersection rather than a quarter of a mile away as currently required.