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. In response to this opportunity, local communities have successfully applied for and created several hundred quiet zones throughout the United States. 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. * * *
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. 
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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
|RNS Developer:||Mark Burton|
|Index Terms:||Horns, Quiet zone, Noise control, Noise, Railroads, Benefit cost analysis, |