New Railroad Quiet Zones Possibly Coming Next Summer

Austin, along with 32 other municipalities in Texas, has submitted an application to the FRA for additional quiet zones.  The new quiet zones would be at 6 at-grade crossings:

  • In the South
    • Mary St.
    • Oltorf St.
    • Banister Ln.
    • W Stassney Ln.
  • Duval Rd. Up North
  • Matthews Ln in Sunset Valley

Except in quiet zones, a train operator must sound his horn about 20 seconds before reaching an at-grade railroad crossing.  This usually happens when the train passes a “whistle post,” which are located 1/4 mile in each direction from the crossing.  This is mandated by Federal law and supersedes any local or state laws.

For a quiet zone to be established, the community must apply to the FRA and install sufficient safety equipment at the crossing to warrant a lack of warning sounds from a train.  Usually this means quad crossing guards that prevent vehicles from driving across the tracks, plus whatever measures are needed to prevent pedestrians from crossing tracks while a train is approaching.  Sometimes this means miniature crossing guards for sidewalks.

Upon receiving the application, the FRA will review and determine the risk factor associated with ceasing to sound horns at each crossing.  This includes a 60 day comment period.  After the quiet zone is approved, there is a notification period of 20 days after which the quiet zone will be in effect.

Austin currently has quiet zones established for rail operated by Cap Metro.  They are from US 183 to Downtown and between McNeil/Merriltown Road and Gracy Farms Road.  Although the Cap Metro trains aren’t carrying any passengers, they are running and (generally) observing the quiet zones.  There are also Cap Metro quiet zones in Leander and Cedar Park, with more in the works.

Train noise is unbelievably disturbing and is the subject of many environmental noise studies.  Any proposed HUD or (as of recently) FHA projects within 3000′ of active rail must undergo a noise study and, if necessary, show adequate noise mitigation plans before receiving approval.

Train noise is difficult to mitigate because it is very loud and has significant low frequency content.  Low frequency sound has longer wavelengths, making it more difficult to control with noise barriers.  Also, railroad tracks tend to be elevated, and horns are mounted near the tops of locomotives.  It’s common for a horn to be 20′ off of the ground.  A high source height makes building an effective barrier even more difficult, since the required wall heights go up substantially.

Quiet zones are an excellent compromise between safety and community livability.  The cost of installing sufficient safety equipment is typically small, in city budget terms.  Communities that are organized enough to submit applications and who have the money to make the necessary improvements see substantial increases in the quality of lives of people who live within half a mile of a crossing.

FRA Crossing and Quiet Zone Page

Story at KXAN

New Quiet Zone Locations Across Nation


  1. What about North Austin rail areas, I live in a new Apt off 1325 and Quick Hill Rd. The 3:30 AM and 6AM train blasting it’s horn for far more than 20 seconds is enormously disturbing. Any plans to have a quiet zone near Mopac and 45 where the rails are under the over passes and not around intersections?

    • The rail line that passes through Round Rock and near your apartment building is different than the line that will be used by the Red Line between Leander and Downtown, so the quiet zones established with Cap Metro’s assistance won’t be of any help to you.

      I’m not aware of any other plans for quiet zones. Applications for quiet zones need to be submitted by communities, and those communities need to have plans for safety equipment that would allow a quiet zone to exist. If such an effort is underway in your community, you may be able to contribute.

      Looking at an overhead of your area, it looks like there is an at-grade crossing at 172/Quick Hill Road and 171. This is probably the crossing that you hear the trains sounding their horns for. It looks like there are a lot of homes very close to the tracks in the area; those people probably have it a lot worse than you do and I bet they’d love a quiet zone. Perhaps with enough community involvement one could be established.

  2. Have any of the quiet zones been established yet? The improvements have been made to the Duval intersection for months now, but the trains are still blowing their horns. Any word on when this will be complete?

  3. Yet the Manor Rd. intersection seems to be exempt due to a complicated fix. Been honking since it started and continues til now whatever today is.

    Plus the train operators seem to REALLY enjoy their horn exercises going as long as 16 seconds ensuring a rude awakening. I’m gonna find and destroy hooooooooooooooooooonkkkkkkkkkkk hoooooooooonk honk…………hooooooooooooooooooooooonkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkkk… hooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooonk guy.

    These are not cute sounds and certainly not the sexy throatiness of real proper freight engines.


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