Train Horn Rule

West Central Municipal Conference

The member municipalities of the West Central Municipal Conference are concerned first and foremost with the safety of our grade crossings and our residents. On December 18, 2003 the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) introduced the "Interim Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings". This Interim Rule would greatly change the existing approach towards crossing safety in our region. It would require that trains sound their horns at every railroad crossing unless specific and costly safety measures were put into place.

This concern for safety has led our communities to work with the Illinois Commerce Commission (ICC) and the railroad companies to upgrade existing crossing facilities, install pedestrian gates, and implement successful safety programs. Due to this commitment, collisions and fatalities in Illinois have been drastically reduced by close to 70%.

We are concerned that the Interim Rule does not correctly consider the accident data versus the impact that horn blowing would have had on eliminating a large number of those accidents, nor that the Interim Rule targets the most dangerous crossings to ensure safety improvements. Additionally, the burden of the Interim Rule falls entirely on local governments with respect to implementation, cost and liability.

The Interim Rule’s methodology is based on risk calculations that are derived from the conclusions of a statistical study conducted by Westat. For pre-rule quiet crossings in northeastern Illinois where the train horn is not routinely sounded, there is a 17.3% higher collision risk than at gated crossings in the continental US where the horn is sounded. This risk threshold will require communities with existing quiet crossings to invest millions of dollars in supplemental safety measures to lower the implied increased risk and ensure the quiet status.

In order to ensure the accuracy and validity of the Westat study, TransInfo and the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) were contracted to perform an analysis of it.

Their findings conclude that "…based on FRA data, there is no reason to believe that in the Chicago Area banning the sounding of horns increases the chance of collisions at gated public highway-rail grade crossings in northeastern Illinois." This result supports the "puzzling anomaly", noted in the Interim Rule, and makes a strong case that routinely sounding train horns is not an effective method to improve safety in northeastern Illinois.

The Interim Rule has the potential to compromise ICC’s highly effective safety program by diverting resources away from the most dangerous crossings, towards installation of supplemental safety measures at relatively safe crossings. We fully support the Proposed Alternative Crossing Safety Program submitted by the local governments throughout northeastern Illinois, since we believe that the state’s proven safety record and program should be used as the model to maintain current quiet crossings and in securing future quiet zones.

We estimate that it will cost between $10 million and $20 million to maintain existing quiet zones and several times that amount to establish new ones. We strongly believe that rather that employing a haphazard approach to establishing quiet zones by applying safety equipment at crossings that in almost every case are extremely safe, the "Proposed Alternative Crossing Safety Program" would better target railroad safety funding towards crossings that present an actual risk to motorists.

The Proposed Alternative is a systematic approach for establishing new quiet zones and maintaining existing ones. Oversight is provided by the state agency with rail safety authority. In Illinois, this will either be IDOT or ICC. The program targets improvements at those crossings that have demonstrated a higher risk of collision, making the best use of limited safety funding. The program is designed to allow the state agency to work with all appropriate parties to ensure the most effective solution is applied at high risk crossings. It allows for the state agency to execute an immediate response when any particular crossing is subject to an unacceptable rate of relevant collisions. The Proposed Alternative includes a public campaign to educate motorists and pedestrians as to the consequences of unsafe behavior at crossings, which is intended to help prevent future losses of life. 

The West Central Municipal Conference submitted comments supportive of the "Proposed Alternative Crossing Safety Program" to the docket. In addition, the Conference signed on to a regional letter of support for the alternative sent by the Metropolitan Mayors Caucus.

Trans Info/UIC Statistical Study

Proposed Alternative Crossing Safety Program

How Proposed Alternative is Safer

MMC Regional Letter of Support

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