In response to concerns expressed by community members regarding the impacts of train horn noise, the city has designated and implemented several railroad crossing Quiet Zones. These efforts are in coordination with Boulder County and other local transportation agencies to improve the safety and quality of life for the Boulder community.
The City of Boulder's plans to establish Quiet Zones are now complete. Beginning at 7 a.m. on April 30, 2021, the following railroad crossings will be officially established as Quiet Zones:
55th Street (north of Arapahoe Avenue)
63rd Street (north of Arapahoe Avenue)
- Valmont Road (established since 2019)
A Note on Safety and the Train Engineer's Discretion
With the establishment of Quiet Zones, train engineers are no longer required to sound their horn upon approaching the crossing, so the surrounding areas should expect less train horn noise. However, the train engineer still has the authority to sound the horn if an unsafe condition exists – this remains at the train engineer’s discretion.
In terms of Quiet Zone compliance, every train conductor receives an internal BNSF documentation bulletin with each train they board, that notes such information as upcoming repair work or the presence of a Quiet Zone crossing along their route. Beginning on the day that a crossing is recognized as a Quiet Zone, these bulletins will convey that information for the relevant crossing.
Quiet Zones provide the opportunity to increase safety both for vehicles and pedestrians/cyclists. Creating Quiet Zones involves installing physical barriers and warning systems that comply with Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) requirements. These include features like raised medians and four-quad gates. Railroad gates are activated when a train is approaching, and are linked to the traffic signals proximate to the tracks, which acts as a signal to all road users to stop and wait for the train to pass. This eliminates the ability for users to travel over the tracks when the gates are down, and creates a safety improvement.
What are Quiet Zones?
Quiet Zones are railroad crossings that include physical infrastructure and warning systems so train engineers are not required to sound the train horn at the crossing. Quiet Zones may involve roadway improvements (City of Boulder), railroad improvements (BNSF Railroad), or a combination of both.
- Roadway improvements include safety measures such as traffic control devices, median extensions and signage that enables a crossing to become Quiet Zone-eligible (if no further railroad improvements are required).
- Railroad improvements include circuitry improvements, signal upgrades and installation of exit crossing gate arms, and can only be implemented by BNSF, owner of the right-of-way at railroad crossings.
Once the improvements are made and approved by the FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) and the Colorado PUC (Public Utilities Commission), the location is recognized as a Quiet Zone.
Once the locations are established as Quiet Zones, train engineers are no longer required to sound the train horn at the crossing, so residents, businesses and visitors in the surrounding areas should expect less train horn noise. Please note, the train engineer still has the authority to sound the horn if an unsafe condition exists.
Funding for Quiet Zones
Funding to design and construct Quiet Zones comes from a $1 million grant from the Denver Regional Council of Governments (DRCOG) with a local match of $200,000 from the city transportation fund.
The city will continue to pursue funding opportunities in conjunction with Boulder County and adjacent municipalities.
Boulder County Quiet Zones
Boulder County’s and BNSF’s work is complete and the crossings along the Diagonal Highway, including 2nd Avenue in Niwot, Niwot Road, Monarch Road, 63rd Street, 55th Street, Jay Road and Independence Road, have been officially designated as Quiet Zone compliant by the Federal Railways Administration (FRA) and the State of Colorado Public Utilities Commission (PUC). For more information, please contact Andrew Barth at the Boulder County Department of Transportation at email@example.com or visit the Boulder County Railroad Quiet Zones page.
In collaboration with Boulder County and the Federal Railroad Administration over the past five years, the city conducted a public engagement process with the community to inform a prioritization and phasing plan for implementation. Projects were originally prioritized as follows:
- 47th Street
- Valmont Road
- Pearl Parkway
- 63rd Street at the Diagonal Highway (joint effort with Boulder County)
- 55th Street north of Arapahoe
- 63rd Street north of Arapahoe
The community provided input on a number of factors, including the number of people living and working within 0.5 miles of the railroad crossings, type and proximity of adjacent land uses (existing and/or planned), street characteristics, safety, installation cost and potential ongoing maintenance responsibilities.
Since the original project prioritization, the city approached Quiet Zone implementation in a holistic manner to complete projects in as quickly possible.
To view the previous two open house presentation materials and boards, please see the links below: