As many Needham residents know, discussions around implementing a Quiet Zone have occurred for decades. In October 2019, the MBTA issued a letter to Needham outlining several matters related to implementing a Quiet Zone (available in the Resources section of this web site since summer 2021).
At the end of the first paragraph of the MBTA letter, it is stated that "a study conducted by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) determined that bans/elimination of locomotive horns in other parts of the country resulted in accident rates doubling."
Safer Quieter Needham submitted a Freedom of Information Action (FOIA) request to the MBTA to learn of the specific study referenced in the 2019 letter.
As a result of the FOIA request we learned that the study referenced by the MBTA letter is a September 1995 report by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) entitled “Florida’s Train Whistle Ban” (the “Florida Study”), which is a Final Report that updates and summarizes the 1992 second edition of the study, which was preceded by first edition of the study in 1990.
The train horn bans in Florida were specifically for the period of 10 PM to 6 AM. To be eligible to institute a train horn ban, “[a]ll affected highway-rail grade crossings are required to be equipped with crossing gates, flashing lights, bells, and special highway advance warning signs [yellow signs that advise there will be no train horn 10PM to 6AM].” The Florida Study shows increases in accident rates for those crossings with train horn bans as compared to the control group (no train horn bans).
Also provided through the FOIA request was a March 2008 Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress on “The Federal Railroad Administration’s Train Horn Rule” (the “CRS Report”). As stated in the first paragraph of the first page of the CRS Report, “partially in response to the [Florida Study], Congress enacted the Swift Rail Development Act, which directed the FRA to issue a regulation on the sounding of train horns at grade crossings.”
In June 2005 the FRA’s “Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings took effect. The rule requires that locomotive horns be sounded at all public highway-rail grade crossings, except where there is no significant risk to persons, where supplementary safety measures fully compensate for the absence of the warning provided by the horn, or where sounding the horn as a warning is not practical.”
In summary, the study that the MBTA cites occurred 10 years before the Train Horn Rule that allowed for Quiet Zones was created. The Train Horn Rule requires safety improvements beyond what were discussed in the Florida Study and that at least offset the elimination of train horns before a Quiet Zone may be established.
The MBTA letter and all of the documents related to the FOIA request are included immediately below.