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How can Wilmington become a ‘quiet zone’ to silence late-night train whistles?

Caitlin Dineen
A train switches tracks at the Port of Wilmington on March 1, 2012. StarNews photo by Paul Stephen.

A train switches tracks at the Port of Wilmington on March 1, 2012. StarNews photo by Paul Stephen.

Q. The train whistle at all times of the night is ridiculous. It literally sounds like its in my backyard and I’m a few miles from the closest crossing. I understand federal law mandates they use the whistle but I also understand a city or town can become a “Quiet Zone”. How can Wilmington become a quiet zone?

A. The only way a town or city can establish a quiet zone is by the local public authorities agreeing to do so.

Under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Train Horn Rule, that distinction can be made, but does not entirely eliminate the bells and toots of trains coming through an area.

They are still used in emergency situations or to comply with other railroad or FRA rules even within a quiet zone.

To avoid collisions, train conductors are required by law to begin sounding locomotive horns 15–20 seconds before entering public highway‐rail grade crossings, no more than one‐quarter mile in advance, according to the FRA.

Even if officials, including elected representatives and law enforcement, decide to make an area a quiet zone, it could come with a high price.

“At a minimum, each public highway–rail crossing within a quiet zone must be equipped with active warning devices: flashing lights, gates, constant warning, time devices (except in rare circumstances) and power out indicators,” reads an FRA document about how to create quiet zones.

No town can fully designate themselves as a quiet town, rather, the specific stretch of track (at least one‐half mile in length that contains one or more consecutive public highway‐rail grade crossings) can be designated as such.

If anyone wants to start the discussion about making a stretch of track a quiet zone, they must contact local government officials, according to the FRA.


Why does the train whistle blow so much in the early morning hours in Wilmington?

What’s the destination of the trains that I hear early in the morning?

User-contributed question by:
Broc Adams

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3 Responses to “ How can Wilmington become a ‘quiet zone’ to silence late-night train whistles?”

  1. On February 7, 2014 at 5:45 pm chaz wrote:

    I love the sound. Helps me sleep. And i an only a few blocks away. I vote to make them honk the horn more!

  2. On February 8, 2014 at 6:16 pm j.d cruce wrote:

    you need to google aperation life saverin your grear state of north carolina. read railroad safety at highway rairoad crossings,when it is a tie you will loose every time.I.m aretired railroad conductor,forty seven years,my regards.j d ceuce

  3. On February 10, 2014 at 11:54 am Si Cantwell wrote:

    The N.C. Operation Life Saver website offers information about what they call “the most dangerous spot on any highway or road,” that is, railroad crossings.
    Take a few minutes to check it out: there are safety tips and background information. If you’re in a car, you don’t want to mess with trains!