FORT COLLINS, Colo. - Three northern Colorado towns tired of freight train horns blaring day and night are on a mission to change federal train safety policy so they can muffle warning blasts.
Under pressure from Colorado's two Democratic senators and the towns of Fort Collins, Loveland and Windsor, the Federal Railroad Administration has agreed to hold hearings next year on the train-horn rule.
The 2005 regulation requires horns to blow at least 15 seconds in advance of all public grade crossings, unless a town has received a "quiet zone" designation that includes lowered gates and flashing lights at intersections.
In towns such as Fort Collins, a university town where development has increased in recent years, there are more people who are exposed to the several minutes of blaring each train makes - blasts that are about 100 decibels, or as loud as a jackhammer.
"It's absolutely earsplitting," said Marshall Hannum, who sells bicycles at Lee's Cyclery. "It's so unbelievably loud that if you don't stick your fingers in your ears, it's going to damage your hearing."
The horns, however, also save lives. Fatalities and accidents at train crossings nationwide are down significantly from 2005. The FRA recorded 14,523 "accidents/incidents" at train crossings in 2004. In 2012, that number was 10,906 - a decline of more than 24 percent.
The FRA allows towns to skirt the train-noise requirements if they apply for "quiet zone" designation and take precautions such as installing gate systems with flashing lights.
Fort Collins, Loveland, and Windsor want to be designated "quiet zones" without taking the required precautions.