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A Comprehensive Evaluation of the Benefits and Costs of Railroad Quiet Zones


In response to a statutory mandate, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) developed rules governing the sounding of locomotive horns at highway-railroad grade crossings. The resulting rules were implemented in 2005 and made final in August of 2006. These rules included guidelines for establishing segments of railroad where locomotive engineers are not required to routinely sound locomotive horns at grade crossings. In order to implement quiet zones, applicant communities must usually implement engineering measures intended to guard against degraded safety outcomes.[1] In response to this opportunity, local communities have successfully applied for and created several hundred quiet zones throughout the United States.[2] Since implementing the rules that allow for the establishment of quiet zones, the FRA has twice evaluated the effects of quiet zones on safety outcomes and found that their implantation has not reduced safety performance over what might have been expected had trains continued to sound their horns. In October of 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) delivered a relatively critical assessment of the FRA’s monitoring and evaluation of quiet zones. Specifically, the GAO report questions the validity of the FRA’s safety assessment and notes that neither the FRA nor anyone else has attempted to measure the benefits attributable to establishing quiet zones. * * *

[1] These measures include but are not limited to channelizing motor vehicle traffic through by installing curbs and medians or the installation of four-quadrant gates. While rare, there are cases where existing safety measures are sufficient, so that it is possible to implement quiet zones without modifications to the subject crossings. [2] There is no routinely published and timely information describing the total number of quiet zones. However, this total stood at 203 in 2011, including 81 zones that were grandfathered under the 2005 FRA rules. By 2017, the number of post-rules, new quiet zones had grown to 570 across 42 states.


The proposed research would remedy the GAO’s criticisms by producing a benefit-cost analysis (BCA) for the establishment of quiet zones that:

Accurately accounts for the variability in mitigation costs encountered in establishing quiet zones;

More defensibly evaluates safety outcomes and their associated benefits or costs; and

Measures aggregate quiet zone benefits, based variations in commercial and residential property values.


The proposed research would certainly be of benefit to the FRA as it continues to evaluate and modify its rules regarding the establishment of quiet zones. The analysis would also be of value to state-level stakeholders who are routinely asked to evaluate and fund the remedial efforts necessary to quiet zone establishment. Most importantly, however, the results of the proposed research would provide communities with hugely useful information as they determine whether or not quiet zone designations are in the public interest.

Related Research:

As the GAO report makes clear, there is a paucity of research regarding the benefits attributable to railroad quiet zones. The GAO report notes that the FRA has not undertaken this sort of analysis, nor is there robust academic research that can be applied. The GAO assessment identified two academic papers that are somewhat relevant – one that examines the disamenities associated with proximity to railroad tracks and a second that focuses on noise disamenities from various sources, but neither paper is directly applicable to the evaluation of quiet zones; both are relatively dated; and both focus on narrow geographic areas. In preparing this Research Needs Statement, the Committee identified a third paper that does specifically value noise from train horns. Unfortunately, it also relies on extremely narrow geographic data and is also not particularly current.[1]

[[1]](file:///C:/Users/Mark/Dropbox/ALL%20RAIL%20WORK/RR%202019/TRB19/NEEDS_STATEMENTS/TRB_QZ_RNS_2018.docx#_ftnref1) See, Robert A. Simons and Abdellaziz El Jaouhari, “The Effect of Freight Railroad Tracks and Train Activity on Residential Property Values,” _The Appraisal Journal_, 72.3 (Summer 2004), 223; 28D. Clarke,“Externality Effects on Residential Property Values: The Example of Noise Disamenities,” _Growth and Change_, 37, 3 (September 2006); and William K. Bellinger, “The Economic Valuation of Train Horn Noise: A US Case Study,” _Transportation Research: Part D_: Transport and Environment, July 2006, v. 11, iss. 4, pp. 310-14.

Based on the Research Objectives outlined above, the proposed research entails the execution of five specific tasks. These include:

Design a set of hedonic (or similar) pricing models for both residential and commercial models with sufficient geographic and demographic variations to be broadly applicable in their results.

Based on model design acquire the necessary data and estimate hedonic (or similar) pricing models that isolate the effects of quiet zones.

Acquire and reconcile data that account for the implementation costs of existing quiet zones.

Re-evaluate the FRA quiet zone safety outcomes based on the modeling suggested proffered within the GAO report and monetize those outcomes based on current U.S. DOT guidelines.

Combine the analytical results in the development of a benefit-cost analysis specific to the implementation of quiet zones under current FRA guidance.


Certainly, we would expect the research to be made available through traditional outlets. However, given the pervasive and persistent interest in quiet zones, we expect that robust results would be quickly received and implemented.


The proposed research is highly relevant to the FRA, state DOTs, and particularly to communities that are considering establishing quiet zones.

Sponsoring Committee:AR040, Freight Rail Transportation
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Mark Burton
Date Posted:10/31/2018
Date Modified:11/06/2018
Index Terms:Horns, Quiet zone, Noise control, Noise, Railroads, Benefit cost analysis,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Freight Transportation

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