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Train Horn Update Q&A

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) confirmed that Florida East Coast Railway’s (FECR) train horns meet federal regulations.  The FRA conducted its own test of FECR’s train horns using their standard protocols this week.  Federal regulations require horns
to measure between 96 and 110 dbs. 
Certified testing completed this week by the FRA indicated that the FECR trains horns
were at 103.6 dbs, below the maximum 
level of 110 dbs. 

Frequently Asked Questions & Answers:

How and where was the testing done by the Federal Railroad Administration?
FRA conducted testing at FECR facilities. The FRA used the same standard protocol and documented process that GE used prior to delivery of the locomotives to FECR.  The testing requires sensors in different locations and specific distances from the horn and around the locomotives to determine if the db level is correct.

How was the testing done by FECR?
FECR tested the horns using the same procedures and protocol as GE to confirm the
db level of these horns were compliant (the horns must measure between
96 and 110 dbs).

Was the horn manufacturer involved with the testing?
No.  Nathan is the manufacturer of the horns and they were not part of any testing of the horns.  GE, the manufacturer of the locomotives, did the testing prior to delivery to FECR and the horns were certified by GE to meet the FRA db range. (GE tested the horns as well as all other components of the locomotives to confirm they met FRA standards).

What are the differences between the previous horns and the new ones, i.e. placement on the locomotive, operating procedures?
Some of the horns on the previous locomotives had only three (3) chimes and few had five (5) chimes, versus the new locomotive horns all have five (5) chimes.  The horn on the new locomotive is located in a different location.  It is the combination of horn location, pitch and frequency that has created a different sound.

Is FECR planning to take any steps to mitigate the sound?
FECR investigated what modifications could be made to the horns to soften the sound and still meet the FRA requirement for decibel level.  The cost of parts, modification, rerouting of air lines and recertification of the horns is significant with no guarantee the modification would mitigate the noise.  To our knowledge, only one other railroad (in Canada) has made changes to these horns on their similar designed locomotives.  This modification resulted in minimal mitigation of noise.

How does the FECR explain the perception by many citizens that the horns are louder and more piercing?

The horns have a different pitch and frequency and therefore appear to be different to the average person (an example would be similar to the sound from a small automobile at 100 db as opposed to a tractor trailer at 100 db).

Did FECR and the manufacturer test the train horns before FECR accepted the order and put the new locomotives in service?
The manufacturer tested and certified the horns to meet FRA requirements.

Has the manufacturer received other complaints when installing these horns in locomotives for other railroad customers?
FECR has no knowledge of complaints of other railroads.

Are the engineers using different methods to activate the horn?
No.  The engineers are following the same protocol as required by the FRA.

Can the engineer turn down the horns during evening hours?
No.  The engineer cannot adjust the volume.

Is there anything FECR can do regarding the train horns?
No.  FECR is required by the FRA to blow the horns at all railroad crossings per FRA regulations.  However, individuals can request their local leaders apply to the FRA for the establishment of a quite zone to stop the horns from blowing at crossings.  All Aboard Florida and the Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach Metropolitan Planning Organizations announced last year that funds have been allocated to build additional infrastructure (new medians and crossing gates) to replace the safety of the train horns and to qualify for a quiet zone designation between PortMiami and 15th Street in West Palm Beach. The MPOs and AAF worked with the Federal Railroad Administration to determine what Supplemental Safety Measures, or additional infrastructure improvements are needed at each grade crossing, and All Aboard Florida will install them as they are constructing their safety improvements. Once a quiet zone is designated, neither freight or passenger trains are required to blow their horns as they approach at-grade crossings. All Aboard Florida has stated the company will work with the cities and counties north of West Palm Beach on the same partnership.  

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