Welfare Effects of Increased Train Noise: A Comparison of the Costs and Benefits of Train Whistle Use at Highway-Railway Crossings

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

planning - safety/accidents, economics - benefits, mode - rail


Wisconsin, Whistles, Welfare economics, U.S. Federal Railroad Administration, Trains, Railroad trains, Railroad safety, Railroad grade crossings, Policy analysis, Noise pollution, Noise, Level crossings, Housing, Highway railroad grade crossings, Highway rail intersections, Grade crossings, Cost benefit analysis, Benefit cost analysis


Beginning in April 2005, a new Federal Railroad Administration rule will require trains to sound their whistles while approaching and entering public highway-rail crossings. This wider use of train horns is expected to increase train whistle noise nationwide. In order to assess the likely impact of this policy change, this study investigates the tradeoff between housing values and railroad safety due to the use of train whistles in Wisconsin. The study is limited to consideration of benefits in terms of human lives saved and to costs in terms of falling housing prices. Findings show that even using the highest estimates of the benefits and considering a wide range of caveats, the costs imposed by the increased train noise are likely to be greater than benefits by an order of magnitude. Furthermore, the costs will be borne by homeowners, while the benefits accrue to commuters. This suggests that policy-makers are more likely to apply for an exception to the new rule where commuters come largely from outside the political jurisdiction.


Transportation Research Part D Home Page: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/13619209