Updated August 11, 2008.
The Montclair Township Public Transportation Advisory Committee provides below answers to some frequently asked questions about a railroad Quiet Zone in Montclair.
On Sept. 30, 2002, New Jersey Transit started its much-awaited MidTown Direct service through Montclair. This service offered rail passengers a “one-seat” ride into New York’s Penn Station from any of the six train stations in Montclair. Within hours of its commencement, however, Township officials were besieged by residents objecting to train horns that sounded louder than ever and blew several times an hour starting before 6 AM and ending after midnight.
Residents were correct. In addition to the number of trains increasing immediately from 28 to over 70 per day, the horns on most of the new electric locomotives blew at a higher decibel level and shriller pitch. Moreover, NJ Transit unexpectedly revoked its observance of Montclair’s long-standing “whistle ban,” an ordinance adopted by Montclair in the 1970s that prohibited trains from sounding their horns at any Montclair grade crossing between the hours of 7 PM to 7 AM. Louder, more-piercing train horns were now sounding for about 18 hours a day at each of the town’s 12 grade crossings. The advent of MidTown Direct service had created an unanticipated, but serious, noise pollution problem.
Following a joint public meeting in October 2002 among the Township Council, representatives of NJ Transit and numerous residents from throughout the town, NJ Transit agreed to reduce the decibel level of the horns from 115 to 100-105 and to again honor Montclair’s nighttime whistle ban. However, the pitch of the horns could not be adjusted, as it was set by the manufacturer.
At about that time, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued proposed regulations governing noise from train horns. The regulations were a response to complaints from residents from all over the United States, including other New Jersey towns, about the health hazards and quality-of-life impact associated with train horns. To address these problems while maintaining acceptable safety levels, FRA regulations permitted the implementation of “Quiet Zones.” As long as the required filings are timely submitted to the FRA, Montclair’s whistle ban will be honored until June 24, 2010, at which time Montclair must have completed implementation of a “Quiet Zone” in order for trains to continue to honor its whistle ban.
Since the start of MidTown Direct service in September 2002, Montclair officials and members of an ad hoc Montclair Connection Citizens’ Advisory Committee had been jointly investigating the implementation of a Quiet Zone. Because of the importance of all modes of transportation to, from and within the Township, the Montclair Township Council in 2004 established the Public Transportation Advisory Committee. The committee’s overall stated purpose is to make a continuous study of transportation needs and facilities in Montclair. In that regard, one of its missions is to advise the Township Council on the steps Montclair must take in order to qualify as an FRA-approved Quiet Zone.
To date, the committee has prepared filings for submission by the Township to meet the deadlines necessary for keeping the 12-hour whistle ban in effect: a Notice of Quiet Zone Continuation, and a Notice of Intent to Create a 24-hour Quiet Zone. The most recent filing, submitted in late June 2008, was a Notice of Detailed Plan. This document officially informed the FRA of the means, cost and schedule for implementing a 24-hour Quiet Zone. Montclair now has until June 24, 2010, to construct the Quiet Zone.
1. What is a Quiet Zone?
A Quiet Zone is an uninterrupted section of railroad at least a half mile long in which trains do not routinely sound their horns at grade crossings.
2. When did the Township Council establish a Quiet Zone?
At its public meeting on June 10, 2008, the Township Council, passed a resolution to authorize the filing of the Detailed Plan to establish a 24-hour Quiet Zone The revision of the Township’s Master Plan in 2007 encouraged the implementation of a Quiet Zone as an environmental goal.
3. Why is the Township of Montclair want to implement a Quiet Zone?
The loudness and shrillness of the train horns, coupled with the significant increase in the number of trains, has created a township-wide noise pollution problem, dramatically affecting the health and quality of life of many Montclair residents and business owners. Although Montclair now prohibits the blowing of train horns between 7 PM and 7 AM, this ban would have ceased to be observed if the Township had not filed a Notice of Detailed Plan by June 24. Montclair has until June 2010 to make the required modifications at our grade crossings. If we fail to establish a Quiet Zone, every train that travels through Montclair will sound its horn four times at each of our 12 grade crossings
4. With a Quiet Zone, will there be any warning when a train passes a grade crossing?
Yes. The gates will come down, signal lights will flash red, and warning bells will ring at the grade crossing, just as they do today.
5. Are there other steps being taken to make drivers and pedestrians aware of a Quiet Zone
Yes. The Township has placed signs at the approaches to all 12 grade crossings, warning that trains do not blow their horns before entering the crossing between 7 PM and 7 AM. In addition, the Public Transportation Advisory Committee is working with the Township to develop a public information program, which includes this FAQ and other forms of communication on the topic.
6. What are the current requirements of a train engineer to sound the horn at grade crossings
The FRA mandates that a locomotive must sound its horn four times at every grade crossing. The horns must register at least 96 decibels when measured 100 feet in front of the train. (Ninety-six decibels is the noise level produced by a chain saw; of course, the noise is more piercing at distances of less than 100 feet.) Montclair has 12 grade crossings, and 50 passenger trains pass through the town each weekday between 7 AM and 7 PM. That’s 2,400 horns each weekday. If the current nighttime ban were to end, the number would rise to 3,360 per day, and the horn count would further increase when weekend service begins.
7. Does a Quiet Zone mean a locomotive horn would never be blown in Montclair?
No. Even if a Quiet Zone is created, trains horns will continue to blow once upon approaching a station, and an engineer will always blow the horn in an emergency, such as a pedestrian on the tracks. The engineer will also sound the train horn if work is being conducted near the tracks.
8. Won’t having a Quiet Zone make it more dangerous for people who walk on the tracks?
As stated above, an engineer will always be able to blow the horn in any emergency situation. When MidTown Direct service commenced in 2002, the Public Transportation Advisory Committee coordinated the production and distribution of rail-safety literature and was instrumental in having NJ Transit conduct a rail safety program in Montclair schools. Recently, a task force composed of police, fire and school officials, working with the Public Transportation Advisory Committee and the Township’s communications director, was formed to address train safety issues.For the decades that Montclair’s 7 PM-to-7 AM whistle ban has existed, it does not appear to have been cited as a contributing cause to a fatality or other accident on the rails. Nonetheless, it must be emphasized that walking on the tracks, with or without a Quiet Zone, is behavior that should be strongly discouraged. (It is also illegal; Montclair ordinances prohibit trespassing on rail property, and violators can be ticketed). Creation of the task force mentioned above is part of a larger plan to expand train-related education and enforcement efforts, and make them ongoing.
9. What must be done to have a Quiet Zone in Montclair?
The Notice of Detailed Plan for a 24-hour Quiet Zone that was filed with the FRA lists specific improvements, known as Supplementary Safety Measures (SSMs) that will be made at seven of Montclair’s grade crossings. The Public Transportation Advisory Committee, after conferring with the FRA, the state’s Department of Transportation, NJ Transit, and Township fire, police and engineering personnel, and the transportation expert, SRF Consulting Group, proposed the following SSMs:
- “Quad gates” at Grove Street and Bellevue Avenue
- Center medians at Normal Avenue, Mt. Hebron Road and Glen Ridge Avenue
- Conversion of a two-way street to a one-way street at Laurel Place
- Closing of Lorraine Avenue crossing
10. What is a quad gate? What is a median?
A quad gate is a set of four gates, as opposed to the two gates that are at our crossings now. In a quad gate system, two gates “interlock” on each side so that a vehicle cannot “serpentine” around the gates and cross the tracks when the gates are in the closed position. A median is an 8” high center divider that extends up to 100 feet away from the tracks. It prevents a vehicle from going into the opposite lane to cross the tracks.
11. Will the Quiet Zone affect emergency vehicle response time?
No. Township police, fire and engineering representatives have reviewed the proposed SSMs, and have concluded that emergency response time will not be affected.
12. Will a Quiet Zone include all grade crossings in Montclair or only those where improvements are constructed?
The Quiet Zone will encompass all grade crossings throughout Montclair. There is an FRA formula that calculates what improvements must be done at which crossings in order to have a town-wide Quiet Zone. The improvements slated for the seven grade crossings will enable us to establish a Quiet Zone that covers the entire length of railroad track in Montclair.
13. How much will a Quiet Zone cost?
The Detailed Plan approved by the Township Council and submitted to the FRA carries a projected price tag of approximately $700,000.
14. Doesn’t a Quiet Zone benefit only those residents who live near the railroad tracks?
No. While homeowners and tenants near the tracks are most deeply affected by the heightened noise associated with the start of MidTown Direct service, many other Township residents also are exposed to the increased noise pollution.
15. What health risks associated with noise pollution?
Many studies have identified the harmful effects of excessive noise—not only on hearing, but on the cardiovascular and nervous systems as well. Since trains pass through Montclair as early as 5:00 in the morning and continue until after 1:00 at night, sleep deprivation is another serious health issue posed by the horns. Without a Quiet Zone, these problems will be aggravated with the onset of weekend service. In recognition of the health hazards posed by the excessively loud and frequent blowing of train horns, Montclair’s 2007 Master Plan cites the establishment of a Quiet Zone as one of the Township’s environmental objectives.
16. Are there any economic disadvantages associated with excessive noise?
Yes. Values tend to decrease if properties are in close proximity to sources of excessive noise. Studies conducted in several countries have typically found that there is a 10% reduction in the value of houses situated alongside track locations where horns are blown. Excessive noise also can have negative effects on commercial, educational and recreational spaces. Research shows that normal outside conversation is unable to occur within 400 feet of a blaring train horn. Overall, the desirability of Montclair could lessen if train horns began blowing virtually 24 hours a day, seven days a week
17. Is the fact that Montclair does not yet have a Quiet Zone holding up the start of weekend MidTown Direct service by NJ Transit?
No. Montclair’s proposed implementation of a Quiet Zone has nothing to do with weekend service. NJ Transit will institute weekend service when it is feasible for it to do so, on a timetable that it will determine and control. The delay in the start of weekend service is due to construction at the Broad Street station in Newark, weekend work in the train tunnels under the Hudson River and weekend construction of the Grove Street bridge on Bloomfield Avenue at the Montclair-Glen Ridge border. Barring further delays, weekend service is expected to start in the Fall of 2009. The Public Transportation Advisory Committee has formed a subcommittee to work with NJ Transit to institute weekend service.