Sacramento becomes first in state to establish 24-hour Quiet Zones at 28 railroad crossings

Saed Hasan
Senior Engineer
Department of Transportation
City of Sacramento, California

Through the efforts of the Mayor, City Council and the City's Department of Transportation working together with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Sacramento residents are now enjoying the sound of silence.

On September 15, 2006, Sacramento became the first city in California to establish 24-hour Quiet Zones at 28 of the city's 42 Union Pacific crossings since a new federal rule took effect in 2005. A Quiet Zone means no trains are to blow their horns while passing through city streets except in an emergency.

"The relief I have felt since you silenced the North-South line is indescribable," according to a city resident who e-mailed the department shortly after the Quiet Zones were established.

The new Quiet Zones secured by Sacramento also apply to the eleven Regional Transit (RT) light rail train crossings sharing the Union Pacific tracks. Therefore, the noise generated by light rail will also be greatly reduced as a result of the City's effort.

The Department of Transportation promptly took action to secure round-the-clock Quiet Zones as soon as the FRA's Train Horn Rule took effect in June 2005. Under the rule, locomotive horns must be sounded while trains approach and enter public highway-rail grade crossings.

Exceptions to the rule would be made at crossings where there is not a significant risk of loss of life or serious personal injury. Likewise, safety measures must fully compensate for the absence of the warning provided by the locomotive horn. In some instances, the local agency must fund and implement improvements at railroad crossings to qualify for a Quiet Zone.

The Quiet Zones prompted loud applause from the community and prompted calls from other cities wondering how we did it. We did it by working diligently to establish a prioritized list of crossings in 2005 and an accompanying funding plan.

The priority list took into consideration the relative impact of noise to residents. Basically, the more people living around a railroad crossing and the more trains passing though a crossing, the higher priority the crossing for a Quiet Zone. To rank the crossings, the City inventoried each crossing and assigned each crossing an order of magnitude relative to the cost of necessary improvements such as new crossing arms, new medians, signing and miscellaneous items. The initial 28 crossings required minimal, if any, improvements. Other crossings waiting their turn require more substantial investments.

With Council approval of $400,000 per year, the Department of Transportation is moving forward to establish Quiet Zones on the City's remaining 14 railroad crossings. The City is also working with the State of California to allocate funding to improve safety at one railroad crossing through the Grade Crossing Improvement Program. Within a few years, the City will have Quiet Zones throughout the whole city.

Creating Quiet Zones requires working early on with the FRA, Public Utilities Commission (PUC), and railroad companies and an understanding that safety is paramount—safety issues must be addressed or Quiet Zones will not be granted.

For now, a significant portion of the city is quiet. Advanced planning, prioritization, support from City Council and good relations with the railroad and FRA are the keys to crossing into the Quiet Zone.

For more information, please contact Saed Hasan at (916) 808-7923 or shasan@cityofsacramento.org.