RR tracks: How close is too close?


Touchdown! Greaser!
May 20, 2009
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We are looking to move and found a great house at a great price. It checks all of our boxes except one. It doesn't have a pool,which my wife really wants. I am neutral on it. We have always had a pool and we do actually use it year round, but I'm the one that has to do all of the maintenance since I am too cheap to hire a pool service. After all, I am retired.

But the house is about 500-600 feet from a RR track. The entire area between the house and RR track is wooded so that might offer some protection from the sound.

But I remember when I was a kid we moved into a house with a track very close out back with no woods to block the sound. That first night a train came through blowing its whistle and pretty much shook everyone out of bed. My mother was crying and my step father was mad. I thought it was cool.

After a short while though we seemed to get used to it and didn't even notice it any more. But kids can sleep through anything anyway. I don't sleep that soundly any more.

Is 500 feet going to be much of a buffer? I don't want to be like those people that buy a house near an airport then complain about the noise.
500-600ft would be much to close for me, but much of it would depend upon whether or not there was a crossing or not. If it’s just zooming by and not blowing a horn, it *might* be tolerable if everything else about the property is in check.
My first apartment was about that distance from the tracks and a crossing. Train came through every night about 3:00a.m. Same as you, we got used to it pretty quick and slept through it.
When we moved away from the tracks, for the first few months I would wake up every night at 3:00 a.m. when the train didn't pass. Weird.
My cousin’s house is that distance from tracks in Roanoke. The rumbling of the train is ok, but the grinding & screeching of the brakes is pretty bad. Makes a bigger difference where the house is located via-a-vis crossings, urban areas, depots, etc.
Here in Gallup a train passes through every 14 seconds. Ok, not really but the RR is the major east/west railway so rail traffic is 24 hours.

It depends on how close to a RR crossing you are. Here in Gallup a person can be next to the tracks, but no road intersection close by and it is pretty quiet. But being near a RR/road crossing and you will hear the horn every time a train passes at all hours. Businesses in the downtown area just stop and wait until the train has passed by, then business continues until the next train passes through.
I'm with you on the pool neutrality. We have one and it is a lot of work and expense, but recently when I tried to consolidate insurances recently it turned out to be a big liability, e.g. some insurers would only underwrite it if I installed a fence or removed the pool.
5000 feet is too close to a track with a crossing that requires a horn from the train
(check out the movie "My Cousin Vinny")

I grow up in a house that was 3 blocks from tracks. There wasn't a lot of freight on it, maybe one per day, otherwise it was commutter rail. I'm not sure why, but there was never any whistle... I guess because there wasn't any crossing for several miles..

The woods will help reduce some of the noise, but you'll still have the low rumble...
As a child we lived a little further than that from the tracks but I learned to listen to them coming down the hill as I fell asleep. Now and again I would hear a particular steam whistle and listening closely might even indicate which operator was driving the train that evening ...
We live 560' from the tracks Willie Nelson sings about in "City of New Orleans". It's a pretty busy line, probably at least one train/hour, although I've never counted. When I'm outside, it's hard to carry on a conversation while the train is passing, but that only lasts a minute or two. In the house I can hear it, but it's a non-issue.

The bigger issue, as mentioned above, is that we live 1300' from a crossing, so we get 2 longs and a short all hours of the day and night. My wife woke up for every train for the first month or so, but now is used to it. I grew up in this house, so I've been acclimated to it since birth. Our first house together was also 600' from a RR, but it was a MUCH older house with a crumbling brick foundation and 100 year old windows. That house would shake; stuff rattling in the cabinets. She had never lived near the tracks, so the first night she spent there, when the train came through, she sat straight up and thought the world was ending. Took her a couple months to acclimate there. This current house was built in the 80's with a poured basement and is much tighter, so there's no vibration at all.

Think about curves and hills. Curves create the most God-awful squealing, and on a hill you will hear the engines notch-up and go to work. The distance from the crossings is probably the biggest factor. Some engineers will try to blow the horn softer and quicker at night, others just let it blast regardless of the time. Amtrak engineers seem to be the worst about that.

I actually like watching the trains. There is some risk of a derailment. We had one about 4 miles from here a year ago. It wasn't too bad, but there is some nasty chemicals that move by rail. We also live 1000' from the interstate, and it is far worse from both a noise and safety perspective. I'd be willing to live a little closer to the tracks, but I'd like to be at least 5 miles from that highway.

Here's the view from my office window as I'm typing this (sorry I wasn't quick enough to catch the locomotives):

Pretty much any distance where the neighbors say "oh you get used to it" is too close for me.
We live about 1100 ft from railroad tracks, and at the end of the street (which is also about 1100') is the railroad crossing. You didn't mention whether there was a crossing 500-600 ft away from the house or not. This matters as the train has to blast its horn approaching and while crossing the tracks, which adds significant noise. We live in flatlands and there are no woods to block the noise. However I will say that in the winter, when the leaves are fallen off the trees (and the air is colder) we can hear the train from further away. Our train line is a very busy freight line, multiple trains an hour and we can see the trains year round.

I grew up in NYC with my bedroom facing a hospital so sirens were a way of life. I never sleep well when I go back to NYC because of the noise (still sleeping in the same bedroom I grew up in). I sleep very well here and always have. Assuming the house is insulated at least reasonably well, you really won't notice it very much, and after a while you won't notice it at all. You will notice it outside, and as Jim said above you may have a hard time carrying on a conversation while the train is passing. It really doesn't bother us. It does mean that sometimes if we're trying to take a call outside we have to walk inside when a train passes.

So basically, if you otherwise like the house and the area, I wouldn't worry about it and think that distance would be fine. But you might want to be there and make sure it doesn't bug you. When we checked out this house before buying it a train went by while we were inside, I noticed something and said "What's that?" The realtor pointed out the train track (which we hadn't driven past coming to the house). My wife and I were unconcerned. I wouldn't want to be in the houses at the end of the street which are right next to it, though.
Gramma lived in a house that literally had train tracks on the other side of the back yard (no fence even.) And it was a small back yard. The trains weren't frequent, but when they did come, it was like being in the Bay Area during a quake, but with much more noise.
Gramma lived in a house that literally had train tracks on the other side of the back yard (no fence even.) And it was a small back yard. The trains weren't frequent, but when they did come, it was like being in the Bay Area during a quake, but with much more noise.

A friend of ours has a house set up like that. That is too close for me personally.
There's a park district pool near me that is 300' from the tracks. Due to the proximity, all the pools are stainless and not concrete.
I live slightly over a mile away from the Roseville Train Yard. It has an interesting history.

In 1997, a 500 pound bomb was discovered left over from the 1973 ordinance explosion, a few neighborhoods were evacuated, and the bomb as detonated. I was just outside of the evac zone. The explosion was loud.

Then there was the 1973 explosion itself. It destroyed most of the train yard but there wasn't much in the way of development out there. Surprisingly, nobody was killed despite the devastation.

My dorm in college in the '80's was 200' from the downtown connector in Atlanta. 10-12 lanes of neverending traffic. We left the windows open at night because there was no A/C. In addition to the traffic sounds from the interstate, we also got the city sounds from surface streets - ambulances, fire trucks, police sirens, etc. 24/7. After a week, you didn't even notice.

I wouldn't worry about a train.
I like quiet. Hate leaf blowers. But some how I think that I could get used to the occassional train if it was at the same time and no brakes or horns.

The nearest town to me has a train go through the downtown historic distric every night at 2 am. The born here's don't care. The moved here's raise holly h$ll. But there is not much they can do about it, the tracks have been in use since before the civil war. The moved here's don't much like the fighter jets at the nearby airbase either. :biggrin:

To me it is the sound of money and freedom respectively.
We're about 3/4 of a mile from a pair of tracks and a mile from a group of 3 crossings. It's a fairly busy set of tracks, as it's one of the main corridors from Fort Worth going north. Even with the air conditioning going, any wind out of the eastern direction and you can hear the trains going. I'm often outside at 3 am on my days off and I can hear the locomotives idling pretty often if they are waiting on an ok to enter the next block. We geta pretty good rumble when they can pass thru at full speed, no matter the time of day. If it's a busy track, the 5-600 feet would be way too close for me.
I'm kind of surprised... Don't you know how the "game is played?"
Buy and move into the house, THEN start a petition to move the tracks, since, you know, "quality of life" and all.
Good luck.
Does the price of the house reflect the fact that it is so close to the tracks? Remember that if you are questioning buying it because of the location so will every future buyer if you decide to sell in the future.
I once, for a few years, lived in a house 2500 feet from the railroad tracks. I will never live within 2500, or even 25,000 feet of them again.
It depends a lot on the operation of that track. Is it high speed or low speed? High frequency or low frequency? Distance to the nearest crossings?

We are going to build on a piece of land that backs up to a RR track, but we are 1/2 mile or greater from the nearest crossings and it is a 25 mph track, mostly used to connect COOPs and ethanol terminals together. Short, infrequent, and low speed trains, mainly during business hours. Our current house is about two blocks from the same tracks, and we never even notice. We've been out on our land working and had trains pass with little notice.

Now my parents live two miles from a major mainline rail used by massive multiple mile long freight trains going 70-80 mph. You often feel the train before you even hear it. Sometimes the pictures on the walls rattle.
I live in a condo ,that’s very close to commuter rail. Most of the time I don’t even notice the noise. I do like the occasional train horn.
Oh, maybe the most annoying thing is that the trains can sometimes be heard in my YouTube videos. But it’s quiet enough in the shop that I don’t bother stopping or re-recording video, and nobody has commented about it.
Employee has one, 500’ away.

We are near the Mx border, so she is always seeing shadowy figures running alongside the parked train, occasional USPB patrols.
She is never further than 20’ from a loaded firearm.

Occasionally, she comes to work with stories of the police telling everyone to gth out of their homes because of concern about an unstable shipment of xxx chemical.

It’s had the occasional derailment too.

I think I’d look for some other hazard to live next to. Or, at least get a home on the inside of the curve lol.
Why not buy a house under the approach path to a runway, at least no horns.
I live about 7-1/2 miles away form a track, 20% of that distance is open water, the rest is woods and a few neighborhoods. I can still hear the horn when outside in the yard on a quiet evening. Clearly not a bother....I bring it up to say that those horns carry a long distance.
…Is 500 feet going to be much of a buffer? I don't want to be like those people that buy a house near an airport then complain about the noise.
If you’re asking, you already know the answer. If it’s an active line, even with no crossings, you’ll hear the train.

Maybe it’ll be like waves at the ocean and you’ll get used to it, maybe not. Go spend a weekday there, all day long and see what transpires.
The type of soil matters, too. Some soils really transmit the vibrations, and if the train is fast and heavily loaded, the house is going to shake.

We live in a tiny town in Saskatchewan. There is still a track here, but a short train runs through once a week, usually around 11 am on a Tuesday, and it does maybe 15 mph. Old rails, old ties limit the speed. Railroads built this country, but highways and massive grain terminals made the grain elevators, and therefore the railroads spurs, mostly obsolete other than for the main lines. Few wooden elevators left.
We live 200ft from a mainline. Bothersome at first, but you learn to ignore the trains. Sometimes I like sitting on our upper porch and watching them roll by.
The closest rail line North of us is probably 6 miles away and we pretty much hear nothing as there are a few small hills and trees/entire subdivisions between us and the tracks. I dont believe its a particularly high-use spur, either. However, there has been rare occassion that I've heard the faint train horn on a really quiet night. If I were guessing, it's when a train is headed North (coming from well Southeast of us) and they are crossing the Arkansas River which runs just South of our neighborhood. The sound is able to carry a bit more over the water in that instance. Can't hear it if inside. That's as close as I like to be, lol.
It can be fun if you have guests. Had a girlfriend in college who's mom's house was about 100' off the main C&O line by the Ohio river. She warned me, and I figured it wouldn't be a big deal.

2 am rolls by, and the train is going by. I woke up from a sound sleep, completely convinced that in the middle of the night someone had pushed the house ONTO the train tracks, ala an episode of the Road Runner. Because from the sound and vibration I fully expected the train to be going right through the house. Scared the daylights of me, and she thought that was completely hilarious.

So my advice is, if the house is made of wood and on a reinforced concrete foundation and asphalt shingles, you're probably good. If cinder blocks, bricks, tile, PVC or other brittle material is involved, I wouldn't do it. But I'm not really risk tolerant of structural stuff.
I recommend you spend the night in the house to see how big a problem it is for you.

If I was selling I would be ok with a potential buyer spending the night.

I was sparking with a woman whose house was about a quarter mile from the tracks at a place where the tracks crossed the road.

Things would start to shake as a prelude to the crossing bells.

Each engineer had his own rhythm for the horn.

I was not there enough to get used to it.

She lived there for several years before I met her and she still enjoyed the quiet of my home when she would visit.


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Had a job in the city next to the L. Every 5 minutes had one go by that sounded like a freaking jet engine. Even with earplugs it gave me tinnitus. Insanely loud.

The scene where they drove on the beach and the first cop pile up was filmed in my town. Was our claim to fame until Black panther came out.