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There is a Canadian National line that is approximately a mile, but not visible, from our house.  We have noticed that some engineers do the full grade crossing honks, while others seem to sound a few "tired" honks at the crossing.  Since we can't see the train we don't know if its traveling five or fifty miles an hour,  crossing visibility profile is not great, and there can be full sound or honks at midnight or daylight, almost seemingly engineer's choice.

We were under the impression that all trains had to do the full cadence regardless of visibility or time of day/night. 

What say you professional engineers

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I strongly suspect there's an explanation other than some engineers doing one thing and others doing something else just on a whim. You'd almost have to spend a few hours by the crossing (or check with other local railfans) to find out what the issue is.

BTW what do you mean by "tired" horn honkings exactly? Is it the same long-long-short-long for a grade crossing but quieter, or some other series of honks? If the latter, the engineer might be using the horn to signal some action other than crossing the street at grade.

@wjstix posted:


BTW what do you mean by "tired" horn honkings exactly? Is it the same long-long-short-long for a grade crossing but quieter, or some other series of honks? If the latter, the engineer might be using the horn to signal some action other than crossing the street at grade.

Assuming the horn control is a valve that the engineer pulls, the "tired sound" seemed as though the valve was just opened partway, so the full air pressure was not used to toot horn, kind of a weak sound than full on/off blasts.

@rrman posted:

Assuming the horn control is a valve that the engineer pulls, the "tired sound" seemed as though the valve was just opened partway, so the full air pressure was not used to toot horn, kind of a weak sound than full on/off blasts.

Must have been a much older locomotive, as non-modulation air horn valves became a requirement in the late 1970, early 1980s. Now modern units (since the mid-1990s) have electrically operated air horns, in that the Engineer or Conductor simply pushes a button to "blow" the air horn (some even have an automatic crossing horn activation circuit).

Rrman, others have adequately covered the requirement of the rule for sounding crossing warning whistle signals, except that Federal regulations require it to be sounded for not less than 20 seconds nor more than 30 seconds each time.

Things in play affecting what you are hearing:

  1. Yes, at least some of the locomotives have the modulating air horn control valve, usually operated by a pull-lever mounted on the control stand, or the same type of lever mounted in the cab ceiling and activated by a rope attached between the lever and the control stand.
  2. If the light whistling is common, then the railroad managers, at their own peril, are not putting forth the effort to verify whether the rule is complied with and correct the attitudes of any employees who are deficient.  There are -- and always have been -- Engineers who are irritated by the whistle and do not like to sound it long and loud.  However, there are also vast herds of plaintiff attorneys who have become much more sophisticated in using disregard of railroad rules to portray the railroad and its employees as being cavalier and unconcerned about safety of the public, when playing to a jury which has the power to, and often does, award large sums of money to people who are injured by trains even though it is primarily their own fault that they were injured or killed.
  3. If a rule is badly designed (and this one is an excellent example of government employees crafting a rule with many complicated aspects) then full compliance with the rule will get it changed by natural processes.  In this instance, if the Engineers fully sound the whistle as required and, say, it is in a residential neighborhood, the residents will complain to their elected officials, who, in order to have some peace, will appropriate the funding necessary to create a quiet zone* and the whistling, along with the angry letters and phone calls from constituents, will stop.  The reason this complicated government rule got into the Code of Federal Regulations in the first place was to stop the angry letters and phone calls that were coming to members of Congress from constituents complaining about loved ones injured or killed by trains which -- allegedly -- did not adequately warn of their approach.

I hope this helps in understanding what you're hearing.  Some employees are lazy and some officials are lazy.

*   In an unusual example of fairness, the local agency requesting a quiet zone must pay all of the costs to upgrade crossing protection.  This includes any active warning devices (signals), lane barriers, signs, etc, and is hugely expensive.  The railroad is responsible for none of the extra cost of quiet zone road crossings, except for the roadway in the crossing and a crossbuck at the crossing.  For once, the railroad got a fair deal.

Last edited by Number 90

To add; If it's a private crossing where you don't have to blow the horn, PTC may be starting the crossing sequence on it's own. Some engineers let it finish all the way out, while others nullify the sequence by pressing the button to get it to stop. Not sure how it is on other RRs, but on CSX...PTC blows every dirt road and rabbit crossing automatically. There's even places where there is no crossing, public or private, and PTC starts the horn blasting away.

With the exception of the C40-8s (retired 2016) and the switchers (mostly retired), all the engines with real horn valves got modded to a button in 2009-2010 on CSX. So it's "all or nothing" with the horn.

@Big Jim posted:

What were the circumstances involved?

When I was switching over a road crossing and happened to be just clear of the crossing and the gates are still down or if they aren't and I could clearly see no one was near, why make a bunch of unnecessary noise?

Don't know how true this, but have read, sometimes there are RR inspectors hiding in the weeds with radar guns, stopwatches, and or videos just waiting to pounce on errant engineers.

When I was a BNSF engineer, the FRA and BNSF were on us constantly about the horn rule, 15-20 seconds until the crossing is occupied under 45 mph, above 45, blow one properly timed sequence from the "W" board, until crossing is occupied, then stop, no point blowing after you're off the wood. We always had somebody out of service over it. If you google FRA horn rule, I think it's about 54 pages long.

We always had somebody out of service over it. If you google FRA horn rule, I think it's about 54 pages long.

Geeze, to paraphrase an oft quoted (true or not) Elvis line: "The common sense has left the building!".  Some bureaucrat(s) must have had way too much time on hands, and wanted to insure every i dotted and T crossed for every possible scenario.

@rrman posted:

Geeze, to paraphrase an oft quoted (true or not) Elvis line: "The common sense has left the building!".  Some bureaucrat(s) must have had way too much time on hands, and wanted to insure every i dotted and T crossed for every possible scenario.

Given the fact that vehicles are regularly mowed down at crossings, obviously they couldn't manage scenarios where idiots drive up on the tracks and around the crossing gates!

rrman . railroads have train masters and or compliance officers that are constantly performing these observations as well as FRA and DOT inspectors.  The FRA develops Regulations and the railroads have to build a program that uses them , the railroad can make them more restrictive but not less. compliance checks go on all the time ,yes radar guns for speed and many other tests that are required to make sure the crews follow all the regulations. the railroads take it very seriously as fines are very high if the FRA catches you  while doing an observation and finds you at fault. Fines are also given to railroad workers who willfully violate rules. the railroad is an incredibly dangerous world where if the rules are followed (and yes there are lots of them) disasters can be avoided. I spent 25 years as an engineer and then a Trainmaster who as part of my duties was rules compliance. there are no rules for operations , hazmat or train handling that are not absolute.  its hard to look in as an outsider , Railfan or model railroader and make sense of it , my first year of railroading was an eye opener as I thought that having followed railroads most of my life I new a fair amount. boy was I wrong.  one last thing, a large number of the regulations have been the results of major incidents across the county.  

When I was a BNSF engineer, the FRA and BNSF were on us constantly about the horn rule, 15-20 seconds until the crossing is occupied under 45 mph, above 45, blow one properly timed sequence from the "W" board, until crossing is occupied, then stop, no point blowing after you're off the wood. We always had somebody out of service over it. If you google FRA horn rule, I think it's about 54 pages long.

One of the most idiotic rules ever! Thank goodness we never had supervisors with stop watches!!!

Every morning, a LIRR train arrives Greenport around 5:00. The engineers try to accommodate the sleeping neighbors by just squeezing enough air to make a few short honks, as the train crosses the last half-dozen or so grade crossings through the residential neighborhood. My house is about a mile and a half (over water) from the station, so if my windows are open, and there's high humidity and the wind is from the NW, I don't need the alarm clock that morning.

On the subject of FRA Inspectors and railroad operating rules:

  1. FRA Inspectors do not independently test for compliance with operating rules.  They always arrange for a railroad official to be present and they test the official, as well as the train crew.  The official chooses the location and type of testing to be done.  The FRA Inspector might suggest that he would like to see testing done on a certain activity, but the railroad official calls the shots on what, when and where.
  2. The reason for this is that the Federal government makes laws which the railroad must then incorporate into its own rules.  Compliance with -- and, if required, enforcement of -- railroad rules (regardless of whether or not a Federal law affects certain rules) is the responsibility of the railroad.  The FRA tests to see how well the official knows the rules, understands how to perform the authorized and standardized tests, and what the railroad official does in order to correct any rules violations observed.  
  3. FRA Inspectors observing rampant noncompliance with rules can cause an audit to be performed, in which numerous FRA Inspectors come to that territory and do audits of test records, perform extensive operations tests (with railroad, officials, of course) and review their findings with the Division management.  If the Division management does not have an acceptable plan for improving compliance, then the FRA goes to the System management, such as the Vice President - Operations.  I don't know of it ever having been necessary to go beyond Division management.
  4. FRA does not deal directly with errant employees.  That is the responsibility of the railroad.  FRA does not testify, or even attend, formal investigations held to determine responsibility, if any, of individual employees.  FRA does not assess discipline, as that, again, is the responsibility of the railroad.
  5. The FRA does fine railroad companies for mechanical defects or improper placarding of hazmat cars found (with a railroad Mechanical Department official accompanying the Inspector), but operating rules violations are treated differently, except for hazmat violations such as improperly placing of hazmat cars in the train, and for hours of service violations.  These fines are against the railroad, not against individuals, and FRA negotiates with railroads for reduction or cancellation of individual fines.
  6. The Code of Federal Regulations provides for fines which can be assessed against individual employees, but they never fine an individual unless that individual has repeatedly violated that rule.
  7. So, all the tough talk about the Federal Railroad Administration fining railroad employees who do not comply with a rule or rules during operations testing is bluster.  I know of only one employee -- just one -- somewhere up in the Great Lakes area, who was fined by FRA for hours of service violations, after having been warned twice for the same offense on two previous occasions.  The employee was a Road Foreman of Engines -- yes, a supervisor -- who had the authority to prevent rule violations, but repeatedly caused rule violations.
Last edited by Number 90

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