Mankato Railroad Quiet Zone Study

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The City of Mankato is studying the potential for a railroad quiet zone at 14 different crossings on the Union Pacific rail line. If established, trains would no longer routinely sound their horn as they travel over each crossing and would only sound their horn in the case of an emergency. To achieve the quiet zone, the City must install many additional safety improvements such as crossing gates and medians, some of which may impact adjacent driveways or access points. The City will be developing multiple improvement options for each crossing and is looking for public feedback to help guide our design process.

Live Online Meeting

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The project team will be walking through this information live on
Thursday, December 3 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Join us to learn about the study and have your questions answered. Use this link to participate at the time of the event and enter the event password: MankatoRR

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Project Area

What is a Quiet Zone?

Defining Quiet Zones

A quiet zone is…

A quiet zone is an area with reduced train horn noise. The following helpful definitions come from the Federal Railroad Administration:

  • Under the Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222), locomotive engineers must begin to sound train horns at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings.
  • In a quiet zone, railroads have been directed to not sound their horns when approaching public highway-rail grade crossings. Train horns may still be used in emergency situations or to comply with other federal regulations or railroad operating rules.

A quiet zone is not…

A quiet zone does not mean that all train horns will be stopped.

  • Emergencies: Locomotive engineers may still sound the horn in case of emergencies, such as a vehicle, person, or even an animal on the tracks or in the crossing.
  • Yard operations: Locomotive engineers are still required to sound the horn to signal yard operations (backing up, stopping, etc.). However, these horns are much less intense than horns used for rail crossings.

Federal Railroad Administration Train Horn Rule Background

For many years, quiet zones (then known as whistle-free or whistle-ban crossings) were implemented at the discretion of local roadway jurisdictions. Following a rise in the number of crashes linked to these crossings, Congress mandated the federal regulation of horns at grade crossings.

In 2005, the FRA released the Train Horn Rule (49 CFR Part 222) mandating the use of train horns at public, vehicular crossings. However, the Train Horn Rule also provided a means of implementing a quiet zone under certain conditions.

Train horns by Flickr user Fairry Duff

Photo credit

Minimum Requirements

Quiet Zone Qualifications

In order to qualify for a quiet zone, each public, vehicular crossing must be equipped with gates, flashing lights with power out indicators, and Constant Warning Time (CWT) detectors.

Review the table below to see the status of those safety features at the existing Mankato rail crossings.

Mankato Rail Crossings

Some key takeaways that have been identified:

  • Three crossings do not have any of the minimum requirements.
  • Three crossing have gates and lights, but do not have CWT detectors.
  • Pedestrian and private crossing are to be evaluated by a diagnostic team to determine the minimum warning devices.
  • Upgrades to the warning devices also typically include reconstruction of the crossing surface if it is an older material (timber) or is in poor condition.

Street Crossing Type Gates Lights CWT
Private Private N/A N/A N/A
Industrial Rd (Yard Tracks) Public No No No
Industrial Rd (Main Line) Public Yes Yes Yes
Private Private N/A N/A N/A
3rd Ave Public Yes Yes Yes
Pine St and 5th Ave Public Yes Yes Yes
Rock St Public Yes Yes No
Elm St/Willow St (Yard Tracks) Public No No No
Elm St Public Yes Yes No
Private Private N/A N/A N/A
Pedestrian Pedestrian N/A N/A N/A
Owatonna St Public Yes Yes No
Hubbell Ave Public No No No
Amos Owens Ln Public Yes Yes Yes

Risk Analysis

FRA Risk Analysis

Once each public vehicular crossing in the corridor meets the minimum warning device requirements, the next step is to determine what safety improvements are needed for the crossing to qualify as a quiet zone. The FRA determines this qualification based on a standardized risk analysis formula. Generally speaking, when the train horns cease, the FRA formula assumes that the risk at a crossing increases. Installing additional safety improvements is a way to help reduce this risk back to levels that are as safe (or safer) than existing conditions.

The FRA allows quiet zone qualification by meeting one of two risk thresholds:

  • Risk Index With Horns (RIWH): This risk level is equivalent to the existing risk levels with horns sounding and no additional improvements.
  • Nationwide Significant Risk Threshold (NSRT): This risk level is the national average of all non-quiet zone public grade crossings equipped with gates and lights.

Corridor-wide Averages

Importantly, the FRA does not require additional safety improvements at every crossing. The risk is measured using a corridor-wide average of the risk at all crossings included in the proposed quiet zone.

Quiet Zone Implementation Process

High-level project schedule

Click the image above to enlarge.

Safety Improvement Options

The following section provides a brief overview of eight available improvement options in three different categories. For each option the risk reduction value and estimated costs have been included.

Category 1: Supplemental Safety Measures (SSMs)

These improvement types have been pre-approved by the FRA as quiet zone treatments. They do not require any additional approval steps, such as a Quiet Zone Application.

Four-quadrant gates

This improvement adds a second set of gates to completely block the crossing. Although there are minimal impacts to adjacent properties, but this improvement has the highest cost. The cost and construction schedule are determined by the railroad.

  • Risk Reduction: 77-82%
  • Cost: $600k-$900k
  • Annual Maintenance Costs: $5,000-$10,000
Four-quadrant gates example


This improvement adds a raised median on the roadway approaches to the crossing. The median should be 100’ long measured from the crossing gate. Shorter medians can be used in cases where roadway intersections or commercial driveways would be blocked. Medians less than 60’ require a Quiet Zone Application to the FRA. This is a cost-effective improvement, but it may impact adjacent private driveways.

  • Risk Reduction: 80%
  • Cost: $30k-$100k
Medians example


This improvement functions similarly to median improvements but can be used in locations where roadway width is a concern. While these are the lowest cost improvement, they have the potential for durability issues, particularly with snowplows. Damaged sections of channelization must be repaired to maintain quiet zone compliance.

  • Risk Reduction: 75%
  • Cost: $10k-$30k
Channelization example


Closing the crossing to all vehicular and pedestrian traffic completely eliminates the risk at the crossing but is very impactful to circulation and neighborhood access. Potential financial incentives from MnDOT and UP (typically $15k) can often make this a cost-neutral improvement option.

  • Risk Reduction: 100%
  • Cost: $0-$20k
Closure example

One-Way Streets

One-way street configurations allow the crossing to be fully blocked by two gates on one side. These improvements are most often used on existing one-way roads.

  • Risk Reduction: 82%
  • Cost: Variable
One-way streets example

Category 2: Alternative Safety Measures (ASMs)

These improvement types are allowed by the FRA but require the submittal of a Quiet Zone Application for approval. This application can add a year or more to the implementation process.

Reduced length medians/channelization

Identical to the median improvements described previously, but which include medians less than 60’ or where an roadway intersection or commercial access is located within 60’ of the crossing gate.

  • Risk Reduction: 25-82%
  • Cost: $20k-$100k
Reduced length median example

Three-quadrant gates

A hybrid combination of the four-quadrant gate and median options, this option includes two gates one side of the crossing and a median on the other. There are typically not substantial cost savings when compared to a four-quadrant gate option.

  • Risk Reduction: 40-80%
  • Cost: $400k-$800k
Three-quadrant gate example

Category 3: Other

Wayside horns

This improvement emits a train horn sound at the crossing in place of the train horn. The sound is more focused at the crossing location and is directed down the roadway approaches to have less impact on the adjacent areas. This is an uncommon option since it does not actually eliminate the horn sounding.

  • Risk Reduction: 40-80%
  • Cost: $100k
Wayside horns example

Proposed Improvements

Instruction and Definitions

The proposed improvement options for each railroad crossing are presented below. Click each image to enlarge. After reviewing the options, please provide your feedback about what will work best at that crossing.

SSS: Supplemental Safety Measures
ASM: Alternative Safety Measures

Design Concepts

Please note: These options are presented as preliminary conceptual layouts. Additional construction details such as signing and striping will be further developed at a future date after feedback has been received from the public and other stakeholders. Some options will also require coordination with other agencies and jurisdictions such as Blue Earth County, South Bend Township, and the Army Corps of Engineers.

Amos Owens


Amos Owens baseline

Option 1: Four Quadrant Gates

Cost: $682,784

Amos Owens option 1

Option 2: Medians

Cost: $162,386

Amos Owens option 2

Your Feedback:



Cost: $649,928

Hubbell baseline

Option 1: Medians

Cost: $654,458

Hubbell option 1

Option 2: Closure

Cost: $29,901

Hubbell option 2

Your Feedback:



Cost: $512,400

Owatonna baseline

Option 1: Four-Quadrant Gates

Cost: $812,400

Owatonna option 1

Option 2: Medians

Cost: $540,600

Owatonna option 2

Option 3: Closure

Cost: $23,108

Owatonna option 3

Your Feedback:



Cost: $143,134

Main Pedestrian baseline

Your Feedback:



Cost: $724,800

Elm/Willow baseline

Option 1: Four-Quadrant Gates

Cost: $1,024,800

Elm/Willow option 1

Option 2: One-Way Streets

Cost: $724,800

Elm/Willow option 2

Estimated cost does not include costs associated with one-way street conversion.

Your Feedback:



Cost: $758,187

Rock baseline

Option 1: Four-Quadrant Gates

Cost: $1,058,381

Rock option 1

Option 2: One-Way Streets

Cost: $756,583

Rock option 1

Estimated cost does not include costs associated with one-way street conversion.

Your Feedback:


Option 1: Medians (Alternative Safety Measure)

Pine option 1

Your Feedback:



Cost: $86,500

3rd Ave baseline

Option 1: Four-Quadrant Gates

Cost: $693,856

3rd Ave option 1

Option 2: Medians with 3-Lane

Cost: $119,264

3rd Ave option 2

Option 3: Medians with 4-Lane

Cost: $237,481

3rd Ave option 3

This option assumes that the proposed improvements would be coordinated with Blue Earth County's future roadway resurfacing of 3rd Avenue. The implementation of this option would also require a feasibility study to assess the impacts of a 4- to 3-lane conversion on traffic circulation and access. Estimated cost does not include costs associated with the feasibility study or roadway resurfacing project.

Your Feedback:

Industrial (Both Crossings)


Cost: $827,478

North Industrial baseline

Your Feedback:

Proposed Implementation Scenarios

The following table summarizes five different potential implementation scenarios using various combinations of the proposed improvements discussed previously.

  • Baseline: This scenario assumes only the installation of baseline improvements to achieve the minimum warning device requirements (gates, lights, CWT) for quiet zone implementation. Based on the FRA risk calculator, this approach would qualify for implementation by meeting the NSRT threshold. The risk analysis would be re-evaluated annually and would be subject to change through increased train or traffic volumes and highway-rail collisions. The NSRT is also updated annually. If an annual risk assessment finds the quiet zone is no longer in compliance, the City would be required to install additional safety improvements.
  • Scenario 1, High Safety, Minimal Access Impacts: This scenario seeks to achieve high risk reduction while minimizing impacts to adjacent accesses. Under this scenario, Four-Quadrant gates are the preferred improvement options due to their minimal impacts to adjacent properties. No crossing closures are included in this scenario.
  • Scenario 2, High Safety, Cost-Efficient (Avoid Four-Quadrant Gates): This scenario also seeks to achieve high risk reduction, but uses more cost-efficient improvement options such as non-traversable medians and closures.
  • Scenario 3, Cost-Efficient: This scenario applies the most cost-efficient improvement options first until the quiet zone achieves risk reduction sufficient to meet the RIWH threshold.
  • Scenario 4, Exclude Amos Owens, Cost-Efficient, Avoid Quiet Zone Application, No Closures: This scenario excludes Industrial Road and Amos Owens Lane from the quiet zone. It also applies the most cost-efficient improvement options first until the quiet zone achieves risk reduction sufficient to meet the RIWH threshold. Non-traversable medians are used at Hubbell Avenue in place of a crossing closure and a four-quadrant gate is used at Rock Street.
  • Scenario 5, Phased/Partial Implementation: This scenario assumes the quiet zone is implemented in sections rather than as a full corridor.
    • Subsection A: This section includes only 3rd Avenue and Pine Street/5th Avenue. Each of these crossings already meets the minimum warning device requirements. Pine Street/5th Avenue uses the Baseline improvement rather than the existing medians to avoid the need for a quiet zone application.
    • Subsection B: This section includes only Rock Street, Elm Street, and the Pedestrian Crossings. Both vehicular crossings will need to be upgraded to meet the minimum warning device requirements. Installing Four-Quad Gates at Rock Street and not at Elm Street is sufficient to meet the RIWH threshold.
    • Subsection C: This section includes only Owatonna Street and Hubbell Avenue. Both crossings will need to be upgraded to meet the minimum warning device requirements. Installing non-traversable medians at Hubbell Avenue only at Hubbell Avenue is sufficient to meet the RIWH threshold. Closing Hubbell Avenue would reduce the construction costs by roughly half, but would have impacts to local traffic circulation.
    • Subsection D: This section includes only Amos Owens Lane. This crossing already meets the minimum warning device requirements.
Street Baseline Scenario 1:
High Safety, Minimal Access Impacts
Scenario 2:
High Safety, Cost-Efficient (Avoid Four-Quad Gates)
Scenario 3:
Scenario 4:
Exclude Amos Owens, Cost-Efficient, Avoid Quiet Zone Application, No Closures
Scenario 5:
Phased/Partial Implementation
3rd Ave Baseline Four-Quad Gates Medians 3-Lane Medians 4-Lane Medians 3-Lane Medians 3-Lane
Pine St and 5th Ave Baseline ASM Medians ASM Medians ASM Medians Baseline Baseline
Rock St Baseline Four-Quad Gates Baseline Baseline Four-Quad Gates Four-Quad Gates
Elm St Baseline Four-Quad Gates Baseline Baseline Baseline Baseline
Pedestrian Baseline Ped Improvements Ped Improvements Ped Improvements Ped Improvements Ped Improvements
Owatonna St Baseline Four-Quad Gates Closure Baseline Baseline Baseline
Hubbell Ave Baseline Medians Medians Closure Medians Medians
Amos Owens Ln Baseline Four-Quad Gates Medians Baseline Medians
Cost $2,875,000 $5,070,000 $2,585,000 $2,406,000 $3,212,000 $50,000 – $2,000,000
Existing Risk Level 6,057 6,057 6,057 6,057 5,762 Varies
Final Risk Level 10,104 2,171 3,635 5,701 4,763 Varies

Next Steps

Thank you for participating in the Mankato Quiet Zone Study. Over the next few weeks, the study team will be incorporating the feedback from you and other stakeholders into a final report which will include additional details on the quiet zone review and implementation process, the improvement options considered, and the proposed implementation scenarios. The final report will also include a detailed implementation plan outlining the next steps required to implement a quiet zone in Mankato.

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Contact the Project Team

Chris Talamantez, City of Mankato Planner | (507) 387-8638

Join the Live Online Meeting

Meeting note icon

You are invited to join the project team's live online meeting:
Thursday, December 3 from 5 p.m. – 7 p.m.

Use this link to participate at the time of the event and enter the event password: MankatoRR