In our series, Behind the Tracks, we are diving deep into the processes, protocol, and planning that goes into building the Cotton Belt. Today, we’re taking a look at how DART ensures that North Texas’s regional rail project fits as seamlessly, as quietly, and as safely as possible into the current environment.
The Rules of the Train Horn
DART conducts intense impact analyses that include measuring the current noise levels and potential levels after the Cotton Belt is running. We’ve found that the majority of noise impacts occur at street crossings due to train horns. The blow of a whistle or the toot of a horn is one most people associate with trains.
In fact, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, there is a Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222). Locomotive engineers must sound horns for a minimum of 15 seconds before a train reaches a public crossing. Train horns generally are sounded in a pattern of two long, one short, and one long blast.
DART must follow the rules of the FRA, but can implement measures to ensure that the Cotton Belt’s horn doesn’t impact residents as much its freight relative.
What is a Quiet Zone?
Quiet zones are areas where railroads have been directed to cease the routine of horn sounding when approaching highway and rail crossings. Local governments can establish quiet zones. For the Cotton Belt project, DART plans to work closely with cities along the corridor to implement quiet zones.
For a quiet zone to be established, public at-grade crossings must be equipped with additional warning devices or have additional physical improvements to ensure the train can pass safely without sounding its horn. Many communities along rail lines have opted to establish partial quiet zones to restrict horns during the hours of 10 P.M. to 7:00 A.M. According to DART’s analysis, these quiet zones can mitigate up to 96 percent of noise impacts coming from the transit vehicles. Along the Cotton Belt corridor there are currently 37 locations that are proposed quiet zones.
Explaining Quad Gates and Non-Mountable Barriers
What equipment can DART use to ensure that at-grade crossings in quiet zones remain safe? Great question! Quad gates, also known as four quadrant gates, are composed of two -four gates on each side of the track rather than just one.
This barrier is impossible for cars to drive under or around, effectively protecting both the Cotton Belt and the automobile even without the blow of the whistle. Most quad gates are equipped with lights and close as the train is scheduled to approach the intersection, effectively keeping traffic off of the tracks. If only two gates are used (one on each side of the tracks), then additional physical improvements like a non-mountable barrier or raised curb must be installed to prevent cars from driving around the gate.
Making the Cotton Belt Part of the Region’s Environment
DART wants to ensure that the Cotton Belt can travel safely and seamlessly throughout the region. We are committed to making the Cotton Belt the safest transit solution that best serves all of North Texas.