Skip to content

Train Horn Rule - History and Timeline

Historically, railroads have sounded horns in advance of grade crossings to warn of oncoming trains. Nearly every state enacted laws requiring that horns be sounded.  Some states, however, permitted exceptions in local communities, allowing them to create whistle bans (i.e. local laws which prohibit the use of train horns or whistles at crossings). 

In the late  1980’s, FRA observed a significant increase in nighttime train-vehicle collisions at certain gated highway-rail grade crossings on the Florida East Coast Railway (FEC) at which nighttime whistle bans had been established in accordance with State statute. Florida’s law permitted the establishment of whistle bans during the hours of 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. at crossings that were located on railroads that operated only within the state of Florida that were equipped with flashing lights and gates.  The study compared the number of collisions before and after the implementation of the Florida Whistle Ban. The results identified a 195% increase in train-vehicle collisions during the ban hours at hornless gated grade crossings.  There was not a similar increase in collisions during the time period that horns were sounded.  After considering many possible factors that could have contributed in the increase in the number of collisions, FRA concluded that the whistle ban was the primary factor contributing to the increase in grade crossing collisions and subsequently issued Emergency Order 15, which overturned Florida’s ban and required trains to resume sounding their horns.  The rate of nighttime collisions at the whistle ban crossings returned to the level that existed prior to the establishment of the whistle bans. [i]

The study of Florida’s whistle bans raised concerns about the impact of whistle bans on crossing collisions nationwide.  A national study concluded that the lack of a train horn increased the risk of a collision by 66.8% at crossings that were equipped with flashing lights and gates. [ii]  These studies prompted Congress to take further action by directing FRA to issue a federal regulation requiring trains to sound locomotive horns at all public highway-rail grade crossings.  It also gave FRA the ability to determine exceptions to that requirement by allowing communities to establish quiet zones to mitigate the use of horns without compromising safety.  

“The Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings,[iii] effective June 24, 2005, established national regulations prescribing how and when train horns must be sounded when approaching public highway-rail grade crossings.  This rule also established a process by which public authorities would be able to establish quiet zones.

[ii] Analysis Of The Safety Impact Of Train Horn Bans At Highway-Rail Grade Crossings:  An Update Using 1997-2001 Data;

[iii]  The Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings is located at



July 26, 1991

FRA Administrator Gil Carmichael issues Emergency Order 15 that pre-empts 1984 Florida statute permitting local whistle bans at highway-rail grade crossings along the Florida East Coast (FEC) Railway between Jacksonville to Miami.

Nov. 2, 1994

Original statutory mandate enacted by Congress (Federal Railroad Safety Authorization Act of 1994) requiring the Secretary of Transportation to issue regulations requiring the sounding of locomotive horns at all public highway-rail grade crossings, and to provide exceptions under specific conditions and circumstances.

April 1995

FRA completes and issues Nationwide Study of Train Whistle Bans

June 1995

Initial public outreach to affected communities begins

Oct. 9, 1996

Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Reauthorization Act amends original statutory mandate, requiring FRA to take into consideration the interests of communities with longstanding whistle bans.

Nov. 2, 1996

Deadline for issuing a Final rule is missed because of expanded public outreach required by previous legislative action, and preparation of Draft Environmental Impact Statement [DEIS]).

Jan. 13, 2000

Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) and DEIS is issued. FRA conducts extensive stakeholder briefings and outreach.

NPRM is published in the Federal Register.

Mar-May 2000

FRA conducts twelve public hearings in nine states across the country from
March 6, through May 3, 2000

May 10, 2000

FRA conducts technical conference on train horn acoustics

May 26, 2000

NPRM Comment period concludes (totals 133 days)

July 18, 2000

Deputy Administrator Jack Wells testified before Surface Transportation Subcommittee of House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee (T&I), the first dedicated congressional hearing ever on this topic.

Dec. 21, 2000

Omnibus Consolidated Appropriations Act requires FRA to delay of issuance of a Final Rule until after July 1, 2001

Dec. 18, 2003

IFR published in the Federal Register; effective date of Dec. 18, 2004

Feb. 04, 2004

FRA conducts public hearing on IFR.

Feb. 17, 2004

Interim Final Rule Public comment period scheduled to close, but extended at the request of various stakeholders seeking additional time to prepare and submit comments.

April 19, 2004

Extended IFR comment period concludes.

April 27, 2005

Final Rule published in the Federal Register.

June 24, 2005

Final Rule goes into effect.

August 17, 2006

Final Rule responding to petitions for reconsideration is published in the Federal Register.

  • Contact us
  • Federal Railroad Administration
    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC 20590
  • Regional Offices