When they talk about a blast from the past in the Mill Creek area outside Geneva, they’re probably not talking about a favorite golden oldie.
They’re more likely talking about the noise made from train horns, which has been an issue for years in the golf-course communities with rural-route addresses near the Union Pacific tracks. You’d think that, in this day and age and with all the technology available, there might be something they can do about that.
Turns out, there is.
On Tuesday, June 17, the Illinois Commerce Commission heard a petition from Kane County seeking permission to install wayside horn systems at the Brundige Road and La Fox Road grade crossings on the Union Pacific Railroad Company main line tracks west of Geneva.
The hearing, which took place in Chicago, went very well, Kane County Board member Drew Frasz said.
“Every indication is that the judge was satisfied,” Frasz said. “And the UP and ICC are completely on board.”
Frasz said the judge will render a decision, most likely in July.
If the petition passes muster, Kane County would get the OK for “qualified application of Union Pacific Railroad Company locomotive horns at each grade crossing.” The cost of installation and maintenance of the LaFox Road horns would be borne by Kane County and the ongoing maintenance costs of the Brundige Road wayside horn system be borne by the Blackberry Township Road District.
Frasz has been campaigning for the wayside horn solution, because it’s one of the top issues he hears about in the 18th District.
“I get people, literally, who move into their house and call me the next day about the horn noise,” Frasz said. “And the noise actually gets louder with humidity, so in spring we get humid days and my phone starts ringing.”
Frasz said it’s mandated that trains honk four times in a standardized pattern of two long, one short and one long blasts. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, “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 durations of long and short blasts.”
The maximum noise level is supposed to be 110 decibels; the minimum is 96.
The problem is amplified because “traffic has increased dramatically” through the years, Frasz said. With present scheduling and the addition of the Elburn Metra station, Frasz said 110 trains a day pass by the intersections at LaFox and Brundige.
Frasz said the initial solution was to seek “quiet zones” for the areas. But that requires center curbs and certain civil engineering work, and requirements for “neither of the crossings could easily be met,” he said.
“So we found a system, and it’s called a wayside horn system. That’s essentially a directional speaker or horn that’s on the gate structure and aimed right on the traffic line,” Frasz said. “The tone is softer than the train horn.”
He said the wayside horn system “looks like a Bose speaker” and the sound is directed down the roadway, which greatly reduces the noise footprint of the audible warning.
He said a train whistle typically carries four square miles, while a wayside horn carries four square acres.
Frasz said a $250,000 state appropriation that Kane County was able to secure a few years ago would pay for the work. He said Kane County had been waiting two years to receive the check so that the proposal could move forward. But more good news is that the costs appear to be coming in under budget.
“It takes a lot of paperwork and patience,” he said.
The Interstate Commerce Commission hearing was to be seen by Administrative Law Judge Timothy E. Duggan. A side benefit of the meeting was that all parties agreed that the work for both LaFox and Brundige could be done at the same time.
“What’s nice is, the side benefit, is that after the hearing was over, we got to talk. Everybody was just like, as soon as this is OK’d, we can start the work,” Frasz said. “With everything we’ve been through, I hate to be too optimistic, but all indications are that we’ll have these things in by fall.”
Frasz said he hopes the Commerce Commission gives the OK, so that he and the folks in Mill Creek can get some restful sleep.
“It’s a really neat project,” he said. “I’m dying to put this thing to bed.”
The train horn rule also provides another method for reducing the impact of routine locomotive horn sounding when trains approach public highway‐rail grade crossings. A wayside horn may be installed at highway‐rail grade crossings that have ﬂashing lights, gates, constant warning time devices (except in rare circumstances), and power out indicators.
The wayside horn is positioned at the crossing and will sound when the warning devices are activated. The sound is directed down the roadway, which greatly reduces the noise footprint of the audible warning. Use of wayside horns is not the same as establishing a quiet zone although they may be used within quiet zones.
The Train Horn Rule and Quiet Zones
Under the Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222), 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 the horn until it is within ¼ mile of the crossing, even if the advance warning is less than 15 seconds.
There is a “good faith” exception for locations where engineers can’t precisely estimate their arrival at a crossing and begin to sound the horn no more than 25 seconds before arriving at the crossing.
Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of two long, one short and one long blasts. 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 durations of long and short blasts.
The maximum volume level for the train horn is 110 decibels which is a new requirement. The minimum sound level remains 96 decibels.
Establishing Quiet Zones:
The final rule also provides an opportunity for localities nationwide to mitigate the effects of train horn noise by establishing “new quiet zones.” “No horn” restriction which may have existed prior to the establishment of the rule may be qualified to be “pre-rule quiet zones”. In a quiet zone, railroads have been directed to cease the routine sounding their horns when approaching public highway-rail grade crossings. Train horns may still be used in emergency situations or to comply with other Federal regulations or railroad operating rules. Localities desiring to establish a quiet zone are first required to mitigate the increased risk caused by the absence of a horn. Learn how to create a Quiet Zone here.