Feds agree to reconsider train-horn rules blamed for disturbing Fort Collins

12:05 PM, Nov 8, 2013   |    comments
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A train crosses Oak Street in Old Town Fort Collins on Nov. 1. V. Richard Haro/Coloradoan library

FORT COLLINS - Federal officials have agreed to consider changing contentious train horn regulations blamed for disturbing Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor.

Current regulations, which went into effect in 2005, require train engineers to sound their hours for at least 15 seconds when entering a road crossing. The rules give communities the power to create "quiet zones" by rebuilding intersections to make them safer, but those intersection improvements can cost millions of dollars in places such as Fort Collins, where the BNSF Railway tracks run down the middle of Mason Street.

Before the train horn rule was implemented, train engineers had more discretion about when and for how long to sound their horns. That meant trains passing through sleeping cities could honk discretely and briefly. Colorado's federal delegation, particularly Democratic Sens. Mark Udall and Michael Bennet, have been pushing for the Federal Railroad Administration to reconsider.

In a joint statement, Bennet and Udall heralded the news.

"I have long argued that the Federal Railroad Administration's train-noise rules, while well intentioned, were not working for Colorado communities that want to spur economic development and protect residents' quality of life," Udall said. "The Federal Railroad Administration's promise to reassess its rules and seek input from Colorado communities is a win for local taxpayers and a welcomed result of how clear Coloradans and I were with the agency that these rigid rules were a problem."

Added Bennet: "The FRA's decision to re-evaluate their regulations on train horns is encouraging news to local communities. This step demonstrates some Colorado common sense, balancing safety concerns with the desire to revitalize urban areas, promote economic growth, and generally have reasonable peace and quiet."

Windsor recently secured a $2.7 million federal grant to create a quiet zone through town. Fort Collins, because the price tag would be much higher, is pursuing an outright waiver of the existing rules, accompanied by some smaller intersection changes. The city says it should be able to get the waiver because the Mason Corridor is so unique. And "unique" is the word federal officials used in announcing they were officially willing to consider changing the existing rule.

A new rule could be in effect as soon as spring 2014, FRA said in a Congressional briefing.

Federal officials say the train horn rules have significantly improved safety. Crashes at level crossings have dropped by 34 percent since the new rules took effect nearly a decade ago, officials say. Fatalities have dropped 18 percent, to 706 nationally, and injury crashes dropped 14 percent during the same period.

(Copyright © 2013 Fort Collins Coloradoan, All Rights Reserved)

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