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Quiet Zone Information

Introduction to Quiet Zones
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requires that the locomotive horn be sounded while trains approach and enter public highway/rail at-grade crossings unless a quiet zone has been established in accordance with FRA requirements.  This page will summarize how quiet zones are established, where quiet zones exist along the railroad tracks affected by the acquisition of the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railway (EJ&E) by Canadian National Railway (CN), how those quiet zones will be affected by the acquisition, and actions communities along the former EJ&E line can take to establish new quiet zones in accordance with FRA regulations. Any questions, comments, or concerns related to the establishment of maintenance of specific quiet zones should be directed to FRA.

What are quiet zones?
A quiet zone is one or more public grade crossings where the railroad is excused from sounding the familiar "long-long-short-long" horn sequence upon a train's approach to a grade crossing.  It is important to note that this does not mean that a train will never sound its horn within an established quiet zone.  Federal regulations and railroad operating rules require that the engineer sound the train's horn in several instances, such as when approaching people or equipment working on the right-of-way.  Moreover, engineers are permitted to sound the horn in a quiet zone if they believe that a situation exists that warrants operation of the horn, such as the presence of pedestrians or animals crossing over the tracks.  A quiet zone is unrelated to other sounds associated with railroads, such as engine noise or the sounds of cars moving on the rails.

How are quiet zones established?
Effective June 24, 2005, FRA established a process for public agencies to establish zones that silence the routine sounding of locomotive horns as trains approach and enter public crossings.  With this rule, commonly referred to as the “Final Rule”, the Secretary of Transportation delegated to FRA the authority to require the use of locomotive horns at public grade crossings. It also gives the FRA the authority to make reasonable exceptions, one in particular "the establishment of a Quiet Zone."  This rule was mandated by Public Law 103-440, which added Section 20153 to Title 49 of the United States Code.  Prior to the Final Rule, there were no consistent standards for silencing of locomotive horns within communities, or for the enforcement of decrees as the sounding of horns was the subject of state laws.  FRA was instructed to formulate a more uniform process and to adopt standards and rules.  As stated on FRA’s website, “The Final Rule provides an opportunity…to mitigate the effects of train horn noise…”  Generally, and in the case of each quiet zone located within the area affected by the acquisition, a single public entity will act as the lead agency for going through the process of establishing a particular quiet zone even though the limits of the zone may extend across multiple jurisdictions.

Quiet zones can be established in a number of ways, although each quiet zone must meet certain minimum requirements as defined in 49 CFR Section 222.35.  Those requirements include:

  • Candidate zones must be greater than or equal to one-half mile in length.

  • Candidate zones must include active warning devices at each public crossing, consisting of flashing lights and gates which control traffic over the crossing and that conform to the standards contained in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Such warning devices shall be equipped with constant warning time devices, if reasonably practical, and power-out indicators. The MUTCD defines the standards used by road managers nationwide to install traffic control devices on all streets and highways.  The MUTCD is published by the Federal Highway Administration at 23 CFR Part 655, Subpart F.

  • Candidate zones must include advance warning signs on each highway approach to every public and private highway-rail grade crossing within the zone.  Specifically, these signs must notify motorists that train horns will not be sounded at the crossing.  These signs shall conform to the MUTCD.

  • Candidate zones that have public crossings that are subjected to pedestrian traffic and are equipped with one or more automatic bells shall retain those bells in working condition.

  • All private crossings in the candidate zone that allow access to the public, or which provide access to active industrial or commercial sites, must be evaluated by a diagnostic team.  Each private crossing must be equipped or treated as recommended by the diagnostic team.

  • All pedestrian grade crossings located within a quiet zone must be evaluated by a diagnostic team and equipped or treated in accordance with the recommendations of the diagnostic team.
  • Each crossing in the candidate zone must be in compliance with the requirements of the MUTCD.

In addition to these minimum requirements, the candidate zone must show that the relative safety of the crossing will not be compromised with the silencing of train horns.  This can be shown in one of three ways.

  • Each public crossing within the quiet zone exhibits one or more Supplemental Safety Measures (SSM). SSMs are defined in FRA's August 17, 2006 Federal Register notice as “a safety system or procedure…that is determined by the Associate Administrator [of FRA] to be an effective substitute for the locomotive horn in the prevention of highway-rail casualties”. A list of approved SSMs can be found in Appendix A of the rule.

  • The Quiet Zone Risk Index (QZRI) is at or below the Nationwide Significant Risk Threshold (NSRT) with or without the use of SSMs or alternative safety measures (ASMs) at one or more public crossings.

    • QZRI is defined by the Final Rule as “the measure of risk to the motoring public which reflects the Crossing Corridor Risk Index for a quiet zone, after adjustment to account for increased risk due to lack of locomotive horn use at the crossings within the quiet zone and reduced risk due to implementation, if any, of SSM’s and ASM’s with the quiet zone”. See FRA's August 17, 2006 Federal Register notice.
    • NSRT is defined by the Final Rule as “a number reflecting a measure of risk, calculated on a nationwide basis, which reflects the average level or risk to the motoring public at public highway-rail grade crossings equipped with flashing lights and gates and at which locomotive horns are sounded”.

  • Safety measures are provided at one or more crossings, which brings the QZRI below the Risk Index with horns (RIWH).
    • RIWH is defined in the  Final Rule as “a measure of risk to the motoring public when locomotive horns are routinely sounded at every public highway-rail grade crossing within a quiet zone.”

What quiet zones are affected by the acquisition?
There are nine quiet zones along the EJ&E and CN lines that are affected by the acquisition.  The boundaries of these quiet zones are shown in the following table:

Quiet Zone Number

Rail Line





Martin Luther King Drive in North Chicago,IL

Oakwood Road in Lake Zurich, IL



Main Street in Lake Zurich, IL

Northwest Highway (US 14) in Barrington, IL



Main Street (Lake Cook Road) in Barrington, IL

West Bartlett Road in Elgin, IL and Bartlett, IL



Liberty Street in Aurora, IL

111th Street near Plainfield, IL



Ferguson Road/119th Street near Plainfield, IL

Lockport Road in Plainfield, IL



White Oak Street in Munster, IN

White Oak Street in Munster, IN



Chestnut Avenue in Franklin Park, IL

Forest Avenue in River Forest, IL



Camp McDonald Road in Wheeling, IL and Prospect Heights, IL

Pratt Avenue in Des Plaines, IL



Harris Road in Mundelein, IL

Willow Road in Wheeling, IL

It should be noted that the Hough Street (Ill. Rte.59) crossing in Barrington is between Quiet Zone Numbers 2 and 3 and is not in a quiet zone.  

The only quiet zone that would no longer qualify as a quiet zone as a result of the acquisition is Quiet Zone Number 3.  When the Board approved the acquisition, the Board directed CN to fund the reasonable improvements FRA deems necessary to maintain quiet zone status for Quiet Zone Number 3.

What actions can communities take to establish new quiet zones?
The FRA rules include an Appendix C to 49 CFR Part 222 entitled “Guide to Establishing Quiet Zones.”  This Appendix summarizes the methods and conditions that affect the establishment of quiet zones.  Communities in Illinois should work with the Illinois Commerce Commission, and communities in Indiana should work with the Indiana Department of Transportation to establish new quiet zones.  In most instances, the local community that wishes to establish a quiet zone must bear the necessary costs. Many communities in both Illinois and Indiana have negotiated agreements with CN that, in some instances, include arrangements for cost sharing related to the establishment of quiet zones.

To find out more information about quiet zones and the requirements for establishing a quiet zone, please go to the FRA's Train Horn Rule website.


The following abbreviations are used throughout this website:

  • Board - Surface Transportation Board
  • CN - Canadian National Railway Company and Grand Trunk Corporation
  • EIS - Environmental Impact Statement
  • EJ&E - Elgin, Joliet and Eastern Railway Company
  • NEPA - National Environmental Policy Act
  • SEA - Section of Environmental Analysis (an office within the Board)
    Last updated 6/22/09.