More suburbs getting quiet zones for train horns

  • Dividers also known as flexible delineators will be installed by fall at three railroad crossings along the Milwaukee West Line in Bensenville. Those improvements will give the village relief from train horns.

    Dividers also known as flexible delineators will be installed by fall at three railroad crossings along the Milwaukee West Line in Bensenville. Those improvements will give the village relief from train horns. Courtesy of Bensenville

Updated 7/21/2014 5:16 AM

I'm happy to report that Bensenville has licked its noise problem.

No, not that problem. Jet engines are still rattling windows in certain neighborhoods in the village bordering O'Hare International Airport. But at least Bensenville residents living or working near the Milwaukee District West train line will get a little relief from whistle-happy engineers.


Administrators recently negotiated a deal with the Federal Railroad Administration to usher in a Quiet Zone.

Before offending any engineers, let me explain the federal government requires them to "sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings." But a designation as a Quiet Zone means no train horns at crossings.

Now if you get teary over Willie Nelson's version of "City of New Orleans," an iconic train song, this is not your column. But if you're more of a Johnny Cash "Folsom Prison Blues" fan -- as in "when I hear that whistle blowing, I hang my head and cry" -- read on.

"It's a very high volume ... sometimes at 1 in the morning," Bensenville Village Manager Mike Cassady explained.

Almost on cue, an earsplitting noise from a freight train on the tracks near village hall illustrated his point during an interview this week.

Quiet Zones don't come without effort. There's a lengthy application process that often requires hiring a consultant, plus communities must install safety improvements such as curbs or "flexible delineators" (plastic dividers standing roughly a yard tall) that discourage drivers from slaloming around lowered gates.

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Bensenville's putting up delineators at three Milwaukee West crossings along with a wayside horn at York Street and the tracks. That's "vastly preferable" to the status quo, Cassady said. The village is paying about $250,000 for delineators and the horn, which directs a warning sound toward motorists and eliminates the need for train whistles.

Bensenville's not alone. Quiet Zones can be found all over the suburbs: Barrington, West Chicago, Lake Zurich, Aurora, Sugar Grove, Bartlett and Mundelein, to name a few.

Asked for a review, Mundelein Assistant Village Manager Michael Flynn gave his Quiet Zone four stars, emailing that it's "well worth the effort."

If you don't have a Quiet Zone, it's a good possibility your municipality is working on one, as is the case in Wood Dale, just west of Bensenville. And if that's not the case, here's where to find information:


A majority of towns along Metra's Milwaukee District lines have instituted Quiet Zones, Deputy Executive Director for Operations Pete Zwolfer said. The problem, he noted, is that the exemption from horn-blowing doesn't exist in cases of mechanical problems or track repairs.

Good to know. How's your quiet zone working? Got any thoughts on train issues? Drop me an email at

Your voice

Got some interesting emails in the wake of last week's column about child safety seats not being mandatory for children 2 and under on airplanes.

Megan Smeaton thinks "it is much safer to carry your seat on board and buy your child a seat."

"It also seems more comfortable for the child," the Wheaton resident wrote. But "I wish it were easier to do.

"It seems that flight attendants get very unhappy when they see someone bringing the car seat on to install. I see people with so-called 'carry-on' luggage that is so large that it should be stored under the plane, but I get hassled about my car seat. I wish they would make people check their huge luggage and allow more car seats without the hassle. Most people I know have had to pull up the proper paperwork showing that they are allowed to use their seat."

Art on the go

The utilitarian aspects of the CTA's Wilson Station will be enlivened by an original artwork by Cecil Balmond. The internationally known artist and sculptor, acclaimed for large installations, will liven up the station, which links the Red and Purple Lines. The CTA already has more than 50 works of art at 41 stations. The project will cost $204,000 and is paid through a federal grant.


There's still time to enter Metra's raffle for free passes to Lollapalooza Aug. 1 to 3 in Chicago's Grant Park. Entries will be drawn July 28. The mega music festival will feature Metra's board of directors playing "The City of New Orleans." (OK, I made that up.) However, it is true you can enter the contest by visiting Metra's offering a $10 pass for all three days of the event.

Gridlock alert

If you're heading south on the Stevenson Expressway, watch out for possible delays at the Route 30 ramps. IDOT crews will be widening the ramps, which means lane reductions from Aug. 4 until mid-December.

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