Railway Concerns & Train Horn Violations

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway maintains and operates the rails along the southern boundary line of Placentia. The City of Placentia has no authority/jurisdiction over the railway or its property. It is solely under the jurisdiction of the Federal Railroad Administration, with assistance from the California Public Utilities Commission. However, idling trains can also result in significant emissions so the Southern California Air Quality Management District does and will monitor such activities and enforce air quality regulations, if necessary.

Reporting a Complaint

There are three avenues by which to make a complaint about the railways:

  1. BNSF Railway Contact Form or toll-free hotline at 1-800-832-5452
  2. Federal Railway Administration Region 7 Information
  3. Southern California Air Quality Management District Information

Background on Quiet Zone in Placentia

A Quiet Zone is a section of rail line at least one-half mile in length containing one or more consecutive public highway-rail grade crossings at which locomotive horns are not routinely sounded. Routine sounding can be silenced at specific highway-rail grade crossings after a safety system or procedure established by the appropriate traffic control authority is determined, by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), to be an effective substitute for the locomotive horn. In the City of Placentia, there is a Quiet Zone, which became effective on August 18, 2007, and extends from Kraemer Boulevard to Kellogg Drive. In addition, Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) partnered with eight Orange County cities to implement rail safety enhancements that provided the cities with the opportunity to establish a Quiet Zone. Crossings in the cities of Anaheim, Dana Point, Irvine, Orange, San Clemente, San Juan Capistrano, Santa Ana, and Tustin have established quiet zones. 

To view a map of the locations of all of the railroad crossing locations in Orange County with established quiet zones, please click here: Railroad Crossing Locations with Quiet Zones

Why do we Still Hear Trains in the Quiet Zone?

Quiet Zone does not mean you will never hear train horns. The name Quiet Zone means that train crews will not regularly blow the horn as a warning of the train’s approach to the crossings. There are numerous reasons you may hear a train horn.

  • The crossing warning devices (lights, bells, and gates) are malfunctioning
  • The warning devices are out-of-service for repair, testing, or maintenance
  • Railroad or contract employees are working on or near the tracks
  • The train crew may sound a warning to animals, vehicle operators, pedestrians, trespassers, crews on other trains
  • Passenger train crews may sound their horn upon arrival at a station to alert passengers standing too close to the platform
  • Passenger trains may sound the horn to alert passengers of departure
  • The engineer believes such action is appropriate in order to prevent imminent injury, death, or property damage

The Quiet Zone does not limit the use of locomotive bells that ring as the train goes through the crossing. These bells are an additional safety measure. Also, in a Quiet Zone, each public crossing must be equipped with functioning flashing lights, ringing bells, and gates that lower to temporarily close the road. Again, Federal law requires that these warning devices are working as intended.

How to Report a Train Horn Violation?

You can file a Violation Report with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which is the federal government agency that oversees railroads. The Federal rule enacted by the Federal Railway Administration in 2005 requires that railroad employees must blow the horn 15-20 seconds prior to occupying any public highway-rail crossing at any time of day. The Federal rule specifies the volume, length, and pattern of the sound of train horns. Federal law requires train engineers to do a routine sounding of their train horns – two long bursts, a short burst, and one long burst – every time a train approaches a railroad crossing unless the crossing is within a quiet zone. Within a quiet zone, routine soundings are prohibited. Non-routine soundings of the train horn are allowed within a quiet zone when a train engineer determines that the horn should be sounded to prevent imminent injury, death, or property damage. A potential horn violation in a quiet zone would include the constant sounding of the specific routine horn pattern mentioned above, during a non-emergency situation

If you believe the train operator is in violation of this rule, the FRA Violation Report Form is the best method for filing a complaint. In order to complete the form, the FRA requests the location and railroad owner. In order to find this information, you can input your address or the address near the alleged violation into the FRA's interactive map, which is available at: http://fragis.fra.dot.gov/GISFRASafety/. The map also shows crossing numbers, crossing data, and mileposts.  The crossings where train operators use a horn are marked with yellow dots on the map. The number next to these dots is the crossing number, which you may need to include in your report. You can use these crossing numbers to indicate where the alleged violation occurred.  

The form will also ask for the date, time, a description of the alleged violation, your contact information, and some additional information. The Violation Report form is available online at: https://www.fra.dot.gov/app/violationreport.

Safety at Railroad Crossings

It is very important to stay clear of the railroad's right of way. Never use tracks as a path or walkway. Not only will this cause the engineer to blow the horn, but it is dangerous and illegal.

When pulling up to a railroad crossing, do not drive all the way up to the crossing gates. You are required to stop and wait at the "Stop Here" signs, or you will receive a traffic ticket. An engineer that observes vehicles pulled all the way up to the crossing gate will blow the horn to warn motorists of their approach. It is important to remember that train engineers will sound the horn as a warning:

  • If the automatic warning and traffic signal devices are malfunctioning or out of service
  • If there is a safety concern at the station (however as required the train rings the engine bell upon arriving and leaving the train station)
  • In an area where construction crews are within or along the railroad right-of-way
  • In an emergency
  • When there is a trespasser on the tracks

Helpful Resources