Quiet Zone

Due to federal regulations, trains have to blow horns every time when they approach a grade crossing. To address community concerns about horn noise, the Federal Government has approved a “Quiet Zone” procedure that if it is fully implemented, trains would be prohibited from routinely blow horns when approaching a Quiet Zone grade crossing.

The horn rule applies to all FRA regulated trains, which includes Caltrain and ACE. It also applies to other non-FRA rail when it runs parallel to and shares grade crossings with FRA regulated trains. In the Bay Area, VTA light rail would be qualified in Campbell because it shares the corridor with UP freight trains.

In the Bay Area, City of Richmond has implemented Quiet Zone at some of its crossings. Quiet Zone has also been implemented along the Vasona Corridor for both VTA light rail and UP, as well as at some grade crossings on SMART in the North Bay. There’s a single Quiet Zone along the Caltrain line covering Atherton Station and the Fair Oaks grade crossing.

A Quiet Zone may be established after a technical evaluation and implementation of safety improvements to the grade crossings to mitigate the risk of collisions without train horns. Safety improvements may include one or more of these measures: 4-quadient gates, center medians, one way streets, and channelization.

Only the local jurisdictions can apply for Quiet Zone status (not the railroads) and local jurisdictions generally have to fund safety improvements to qualify for such status. For some new passenger rail projects, the cost of safety improvements was included in the overall construction cost as a mitigation measure.

On the Caltrain corridor, the agency has implemented grade crossing improvements in San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties. Additional measures may still be needed to qualify for Quiet Zone status. Also, because many grade crossings are located near a station, an alternate method would be required to reactivate the gates when the train is ready to depart (currently trains reactivate the gates by blowing horns before departing).

Quiet Zone before and after

Quiet Zone was implemented in Downtown San Diego in November 2012. The rail corridor in Downtown San Diego is used by Amtrak and Coaster trains along with the San Diego Trolley. Prior to the Quiet Zone implementation, all the trains (including the Trolley) had to blow horns when approaching the crossings.

Wayside horns

Due to safety issue and cost of improvements, some crossings have implemented wayside horns. Unlike the train horns, wayside horns are stationary and are directed at oncoming vehicular traffic. Even at a minimum required volume, overall noise volume in the community would be reduced with the wayside horns.