Soundproofing train noise is something most people living near railroad crossings would like to do. But many have no idea how. In this article I’ll share the best ways to do it on your own, without having to hire any professionals.
Some things that work well include: adding mass to the walls and insulating doors and windows with soundproofing materials. There is also a chance of your area getting a “Quiet Zone” label, which would force the train owners to lower the noise of their trains.
Why do train use horns and whistling noises?
Before I start explaining the whole process, it’s good to know the reason for train horns and whistles in the first place. They’re used for safety when the train approaches a crossing for vehicles and pedestrians.
FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) requires all trains to use these sounds as a warning 15 to 20 seconds before it enters a public highway-rail grade crossing. And if the train moves at a speed greater than 60 mph, it has to blow the horn a quarter mile away from the crossing.
In order for the warning sound to be heard by all people in the area, it has to be at least 90 decibels in strength. But sometimes it goes up to 110 decibels, which is quite loud and disturbing.
How to become a Quiet Zone
So how could your area become a Quiet Zone if the noise is necessary to warn pedestrians and vehicles of the incoming train? It’s possible thanks to new technology that includes improved sensors and safety equipment.
Illinois is one state in particular that has increased the number of Quiet Zones because over half the population lives near railroad crossings. For this to happen, it’s important for citizens to get vocal about the problem and request the change from the major or the governor of the state.
Honestly, putting pressure on authorities by a large number of potential voters is the best way to get the change approved. If your area is technically eligible for becoming a Quiet Zone in the first place. Because no organization will spend thousands of dollars to appease one regular person’s wishes. Unless you’re Bill Gates or something. 🙂
These instructions from the FRA can also be helpful in getting a Quiet Zone approved.
However, it can take months or years for a Quiet Zone to be instated. Even if it happens at some point in the future, you’ll still have to suffer from the train noise until it does. Unless.. you’re willing to use a few popular soundproofing tips that work really well.
Reducing Train Noise at Home or Office
There are 3 major areas you’ll have to soundproof or at least insulate to an extent in order to block train noise: exterior door(s), walls and windows. Here are a few easy and affordable ways to do it.
1. Soundproof exterior doors
Soundproofing exterior doors includes two simple steps: sealing all gaps and adding mass to the door. Gaps are actually found between the door and the door frame. There can also be a gap between the door and the floor.
If these gaps are not covered with proper material, air and noise can pass through. So it’s vital that you cover them. For the door frame gap, use weatherproof foam tape. Surround the entire door frame with the tape so that there’s a proper seal when you close the door.
For the bottom gap, attach a door sweep to the bottom part of the door. Here are the best basic and automatic door sweeps and how to install them.
Once you’ve covered the gaps, it’s time to add a noise barrier to the door’s surface. Basically, you want to make the door thicker in order for it to block more sound. Some things you can do are:
- attach a wooden panel to the door
- tack a thick moving blanket
- install soundproofing panels on the door
- hang a noise-blocking curtain in front of the door on a curtain rod
All of these options work great. My favorite one is to tack a moving blanket or two on the door. The best one is the Supreme Mover blanket because it’s the heaviest. If the noise is really strong, I suggest adding one more blanket to double their thickness.
Another solid option is to install a curtain rod above the door and hang a noise blocking curtain. To double the potential of this method, install a double curtain rod and hang two curtains instead of just one.
Installing any of these soundproofing materials will work great for blocking train noise and other sounds as well. Check out my full door soundproofing guide to see full steps for each of these methods and 10 more ideas.
2. Soundproof your windows
Soundproofing the windows is also very similar to soundproofing a door. You should first use the foam tape to cover any gaps in the window frame. Then you’ll need to add mass to the window are.
Noise-blocking curtains are the simplest option and they look really nice. Hang them on a curtain rod and you’re done.
In addition to that, installing dense blinders on the windows can also be really helpful.
Check out my window soundproofing article for more information on these methods and 6 more ideas.
3. Insulate external walls
To soundproof the walls there are really many different options.
But they can be boiled down to three strategies:
a) Install soundproofing material inside the wall
The first strategy is the best. However, breaking down the wall in order to place the material inside is a lot of work. It’s usually done during construction or not at all. So if you’re reconstructing the wall I would do this, but not in a regular situation.
The best materials to use are mineral wool boards and/or mass loaded vinyl.
Both materials work well against impact AND airborne noise because they’re really dense and flexible.
b) Install the material outside the wall (on its surface)
Installing the materials directly on the wall is preferred in regular circumstances. Mainly because it’s much easier and doesn’t require opening up the wall.
In this case, many materials can be used. The best ones are: mass loaded vinyl (MLV), thick moving blankets and soundproofing panels.
So yes, mass loaded vinyl can be used in the wall and on the wall’s surface. Install it on the wall by screwing it or nailing it in place.
Another option is to use a spray adhesive. MLV comes in large sheets which can be cut to the required size with a knife. The same installation methods can be used for thick moving blankets.
So cover the wall with either material and make sure that it stays in place by securing it with nails/screws/adhesive. Soundproofing panels are very popular. But I suggest using the really dense ones, not the regular foam panels. Because regular foam panels will not do very well against high frequency noises. They’re more about reducing echo in the room and not soundproofing.
c) Install a layer of drywall
The final option is to hang an additional layer of drywall. Drywall is pretty thick and massive, and that’s what every soundproofing material should be.
You could install soundproof drywall which is much thicker and therefore better for sound insulation. Unfortunately, drywall will take more space away from the room than other materials suggested here.
It also involves more work, so you might have to hire professionals, which can rack up the price. I’d personally leave this as a last option, and try covering the wall’s surface with soundproofing materials mentioned before. It’s usually enough to reduce the noise by a lot and not have to resort to any construction work.
4. Use an acoustic sealant to fix cracked surfaces
Cracked surfaces in the wall or in the window or door frames should be sealed because they reduce the noise blocking properties of those surfaces. The best acoustic sealant is the green glue noiseproofing sealant. Here’s how you use it:
5. Soundproof your yard
If you own any green property around your home, you can build a soundproof fence around it. Planting some trees and shrubs around your home can also absorb some of the noise.
Basically any additional barriers between yourself and the train will absorb some of the noise and potentially eliminate the problem entirely.
6. Use earplugs or ear muffs
Earplugs and ear muffs are very good for sleeping in noisy areas. I haven’t uses my ear muffs ever since I hanged noise-blocking curtains on my bedroom window. But before that, they’re were a real sleep saver.
Between the two, I prefer ear muffs because ear plugs can cause damage to the ears if used long-term. With ear muffs that’s not the case.
If you work from home, train noise might also bother you and using one of these options can help throughout the day.
7. Use a white noise machine
White noise is a beneficial sound for creating a relaxed atmosphere. There are machines available that produce this white noise and can last for days without having to be recharged. Marcap Dohm is the most popular one with over 13 000 reviews on Amazon.
They’re excellent sleep aid, and many people use them in offices, bedrooms and nurseries to create that soothing atmosphere and muffle the outside noise.
While the train whistling from the distance is a more direct sound and comes in strong waves unlike regular traffic noise, white noise can still be helpful at overriding it.
Final Word: Reducing train noise
To reduce train noise in your entire neighborhood, the only proper way is to engage on a social level for the Quiet Zone status.
But if you’re only worried about the noise entering your home or office, you can use the soundproofing techniques mentioned in this article to achieve success.
If you soundproof the front door, windows and walls with the materials I’ve recommended, I have no doubt you’ll accomplish a significant reduction of train noise.