The Swift Rail Act: Will Sleepless Citizens be able to Quiet Train Whistles, and at What Cost?
Gruenes, Mark A.
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Frustrated by the noise caused by train whistles, many Illinois municipalities have passed ordinances that ban trains from blowing their whistles at local crossings. Despite these local ordinances, however, railroads continue to instruct their engineers to sound whistles. Making matters worse for sleepless Illinois residents, the Federal Government entered the picture in 1994 when the Swift Rail Development Act of 1994 ("Swift Rail Act" or "Act") was made law. The Swift Rail Act directs the Secretary of Transportation ("Secretary") to promulgate regulations requiring trains to sound a "locomotive horn"' at all public highway-rail grade crossings. These regulations will preempt state and local whistle bans. In addition, the Act provides that the Secretary can exempt some crossings from the whistle-sounding requirement if supplementary safety measures are implemented such that the crossings are as safe as they would be with the sounding requirement in effect. Part I of this comment begins by discussing the current state of Illinois law with respect to train whistle blowing. Part II proceeds to discuss background information, including two federal studies, which tends to support the anticipated whistle-blowing mandate under the Swift Rail Act. Part III of this comment discusses the portion of the Swift Rail Act that regulates the sounding of train whistles. Part III also reviews the supplemental safety measures being considered by the FRA. The comment concludes with Part IV which is a discussion of the costs and anticipated benefits of the proposed regulatory scheme.