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Question about rules for horn usage at grade crossings

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Question about rules for horn usage at grade crossings
Posted by John-NYBW on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 3:51 PM

I made it a point to drive past the crossing I mentioned in the OP to see what kind of signage it had. About 100 yards north of the crossing there was a 4 sided sign that was wider at the top than the bottom. I didn't feel like walking down the tracks to see what was on the front of the sign so I don't know if this was a whistle sign or not. I didn't see anything to the south of this crossing on either side of the track. There is another crossing about a quarter mile south of this one and I drove around to that one and didn't see a sign in either direction. 

This crossing is near to my golf course and I frequently hear the horns sound as the daily train passes each crossing. Since I play in the morning, the train is almost always moving northward. 

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Posted by doctorwayne on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 4:13 PM

It's just a hunch, but I think that most whistle posts are placed based on the speed limit of the track as the train approaches a crossing.

F'rinstance, let's say that a 30mph limit might put the whistle post 200 yards from the crossing, while a 60mph limit might need the whistle post 400 or 500 yds away.

These two..

...on double track, are fairly close (about 230') to a couple of seldom-used crossings, but trains here are usually not going any faster than 20mph.

Wayne

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Posted by gmpullman on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 4:55 PM

John-NYBW
I was always under the impression that there was a set distance from the grade crossing regardless of speed but apparently that is not the case.

I could look up the specific rule (14-L) but from what I recall the majority of rulebooks state that the last portion of the — — 0 — signal was to be held (or repeated) for as long as it takes the lead engine to enter and occupy the actual crossing.

 Whistle signal-Rule 14-L by Edmund, on Flickr

Based on the engineman's experience, how tightly the "rules" are enforced and "local conditions" will dictate how compliant the horn sounding will be.

There are W-MX whistle signs when there are multiple crossings too close together to post a W for each one. It is up to the discretion of the engineman to sound the horn frequently enough to satisfy the rules.

Of course, these days there are the "quiet-zone" crossings which is a concept that I find amusing. These have a different set of rules and conditions to contend with.

Good Luck, Ed

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Posted by dehusman on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 5:28 PM

State law sets warning distances in older eras.  Normally something like 15-20 secs or 1/4 mile before the crossing.

Dave H. Painted side goes up. My website : wnbranch.com

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Posted by John-NYBW on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 6:22 PM

I had just left the golf course and I have a pretty good sense of distance and I can assure you the distance from the loco to the grade crossing when the horn sounded was nowhere close to 1/4 mile which is 440 yards. 100 yards is certainly a fairly close ballpark estimate for the distance when the horn began sounding. 

I took this Google Earth snapshot of the crossing.

The crossing is at the upper center of the image. Near the bottom is a crossing of a more substantial rode that only got flashers within the past few years. I crossed it many times and I always thought it was dangerous because of the restricted view in both directions. 

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Posted by BigJim on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 8:17 PM

Where is the whistle board...hmm? Signaling should start at the whistle board or no longer than 20 sec. away. If there is none, then they don't need to blow the horn.

.

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Posted by wrench567 on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 8:39 PM

  Growing up on the west side of Cleveland. I've been stuck at the three track main and siding in Olmsted Falls and Berea many many times. The first train to approach the crossing would sound the horn two longs a short followed by a long while crossing. Many times a train would come from the other direction and not sound the horn because the crossing was already occupied. Sometimes they would give just a short toot. But most times not until the first train was clear of the crossing. I have been at grade crossings when four and five trains would pass in front of me.

     Pete.

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Posted by OldEngineman on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 9:33 PM

How fast was the train moving when it passed over the crossing?

Perhaps 10-15mph? Faster?

You're going to begin use the horn further away if you're moving at 70. A lot closer if you're only going 15.

Start blowing the horn 1/3 of a mile away at 15mph, and you're going to have to repeat the crossing horn sequence so many times, that folks are going to start complaining.

There's a balance here. It's based on the engineman's judgement, etc. At least... that's the way it used to be...

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Posted by PM Railfan on Thursday, September 1, 2022 1:39 AM

This is most certainly just a pinch outside of topic but, what pulls the face off my couplers is a grade crossing where some lunatic, scuze me, government lunatic.... has passed an ordinance for trains NOT.... i repeat NOT, to blow horns at said grade crossing. WHAT???? Have you shorted to ground????

I dont know what gives ANYONE the right to proclaim this, government official or not.

YOU DO NOT RESTRICT OR OTHERWISE BAN OR IMPEDE THE USE OF A SAFETY DEVICE WHOS EXPLICIT REASON FOR BEING IS....     SAFETY!!!!!

If you dont want to hear a train horn at the crossing next to your house at 2am.... MOVE TO SIBERIA!

If i were an engineer, piloting a train past just such an occasion, id stand on that horn lever (push button for you safety cabbers). Id rather take the hassle of whatever trouble this could avail me than run over your kid at the crossing becuase i couldnt warn them!

So while your wondering just how far away, or close, ya gotta get before ya start reaching for the rich-n-zesty loudness..... dont think - just do it anyway. Do it loud and proud! Do it all over the place. No one.... NO ONE can deny the reason train horns are so loud.....

 

THEY ARE MEANT TO BE HEARD! 

 

PMR

 

(Not using a safety device on a train, well..... weve seen before what happens when you tie down a "safety device" [pop valve] so it cant be used - or make noise! Ironic huh!)

 

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Posted by zugmann on Thursday, September 1, 2022 7:02 AM

PM Railfan
If i were an engineer, piloting a train past just such an occasion, id stand on that horn lever (push button for you safety cabbers). Id rather take the hassle of whatever trouble this could avail me than run over your kid at the crossing becuase i couldnt warn them!

Quiet zones are in the rule book/timetable/special instructions, etc and disregarding that rule will result in discipline.

 

In this day and age, PTC calculates when you need to blow the horn, (and will do it for you if you neglect to).   

  

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Posted by richhotrain on Thursday, September 1, 2022 7:16 AM

PM Railfan

If you dont want to hear a train horn at the crossing next to your house at 2am.... MOVE TO SIBERIA!

If i were an engineer, piloting a train past just such an occasion, id stand on that horn lever (push button for you safety cabbers). Id rather take the hassle of whatever trouble this could avail me than run over your kid at the crossing becuase i couldnt warn them!

If my kid is standing on railroad tracks next to my house at 2:00 AM, go ahead and run him over. Just don't blow the horn and wake me up.  Smile, Wink & Grin

Rich

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Posted by richhotrain on Thursday, September 1, 2022 7:26 AM

While all of the foregoing discussion is relevant to real trains, it hardly seems applicable to model railroad layouts. In HO scale, one mile is just over 60 feet. I consider my layout fairly large, but my longest stretch of straight track is less than 40 feet. One-half mile is 30 feet, and one-quarter mile is 15 feet. I just blow the whistle on trains approaching unprotected crossings at about 5 to 10 feet. That's about 450 to 900 feet in 1:1 scale.

Rich

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Posted by wjstix on Thursday, September 1, 2022 8:52 AM

Normally, "quiet zones" aren't the result of some government official trying to be all-powerfull, but rather are the result of people near the crossing getting together and asking their local city council or county officials to declare the crossing a quiet zone. Generally, such a crossing is protected by crossing gates.

An example is Revelstoke BC - if no train is running, you can scroll back up to several hours, but usually there's a couple trains an hour - and once in a while, a bear!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BahXDYWQAKk

BigJim

Where is the whistle board...hmm? Signaling should start at the whistle board or no longer than 20 sec. away. If there is none, then they don't need to blow the horn. 

Unless designated a quiet zone, trains have to blow the two longs, one short, one long, at every grade crossing. Whistle boards are reminders set up by the railroads, usually on mainlines and/or in places where the upcoming crossing may not be immediately visible, that a crossing is coming up. Lack of a whistle board doesn't mean not to blow the horn for a crossing.

Stix
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Posted by dknelson on Thursday, September 1, 2022 11:28 AM

Local ordinances can proclaim this or that crossing (or an entire town or city" to be a "no horn" location, or at least portions of the day (usually night time) might be so proclaimed.  I believe federal law or regulations allows the engineer to "violate" those restrictions if he or she feels safety is at stake.  In my village they routinely blow anyway and that is because vegetation trackside makes most crossings pretty "blind" for both drivers and engineers until the last moment.

I do not know if this is something in rulebooks or just engineer training but my experience is that many, and perhaps most, locomotive engineers time their horn's "-----  ------  --  ----------" so that the last long horn is sounding even as the locomotive enters the crossing.

Years ago there was an LP recording of Pennsylvania Railroad steam locomotives and in one cut, the program notes mentioned that the engineer of the K4 Pacific must have been angry or impatient because the whistle blown for the crossing, presumably at a depot area where the train had stopped, was the "legal minimum" a very short and abrupt version:  "--  -- .  --"

Dave Nelson

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Posted by John-NYBW on Thursday, September 1, 2022 12:35 PM

OldEngineman

How fast was the train moving when it passed over the crossing?

Perhaps 10-15mph? Faster?

You're going to begin use the horn further away if you're moving at 70. A lot closer if you're only going 15.

Start blowing the horn 1/3 of a mile away at 15mph, and you're going to have to repeat the crossing horn sequence so many times, that folks are going to start complaining.

There's a balance here. It's based on the engineman's judgement, etc. At least... that's the way it used to be...

 

I would estimate the speed at 10-15 mph. After the rear loco passed the crossing, I hopped in my car and drove to the next crossing to the south and got there just after the lead loco and passed the crossing. If you look at the Google Earth view, I had to drive to the next road and then turn about a quarter mile east to reach that crossing and still had to wait for the train to cross. 

If you are correct, then the speed of the loco does impact how far away from the crossing the horn will start sounding, which was my question. I don't recall seeing a whistle board so it seems it might be left to the engineer's judgement.  

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Posted by gmpullman on Thursday, September 1, 2022 1:20 PM

 

 

Regards, Ed

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Posted by wjstix on Thursday, September 1, 2022 1:33 PM

John-NYBW
I don't recall seeing a whistle board so it seems it might be left to the engineer's judgement.

Nope, it's a requirement unless a crossing has been designated to not require blowing the horn. How early, how long, or how loudly the horn is blown may be subject to judgment, but not whether or not to sound the horn.

I grew up across the street from the 'high line' of the Minneapolis Northfield & Southern, at 67th street. On a still, quiet day, you could hear the whistle (they used Hancock air whistles) being blown at 76th street, 73rd, 70th, and 68th as they came up from the south. There were no whistle posts on the line.

To put it another way, if the engineer "chose" not to blow the horn at a crossing, and then hit a car, the railroad would be in BIG trouble, as the survivors and/or next-of-kin of those killed in the auto would be suing the railroad for a huge chunk of money and almost certainly winning, since they could show the engineer was negligent for not blowing for the crossing.

Stix
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Posted by John-NYBW on Thursday, September 1, 2022 2:22 PM

wjstix

 

 
John-NYBW
I don't recall seeing a whistle board so it seems it might be left to the engineer's judgement.

 

Nope, it's a requirement unless a crossing has been designated to not require blowing the horn. How early, how long, or how loudly the horn is blown may be subject to judgment, but not whether or not to sound the horn.

 

What I was trying to say is that it was left to the engineer's judgement as to when to blow the horn, not if to blow the horn. 

I also don't recall it being the typical two longs and a short although I might be wrong about that. I live about 3 miles from that line as the crow flies and often hear the horns as the train progresses up and down the line. I'm going to pay more attention to the horn next time I hear it.

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Posted by BigJim on Thursday, September 1, 2022 4:21 PM

John-NYBW
I don't recall seeing a whistle board so it seems it might be left to the engineer's judgement.  


No whistle board...Blowing the whistle not required.

.

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Posted by OldEngineman on Thursday, September 1, 2022 9:58 PM

Jim writes: "No whistle board...Blowing the whistle not required"

Correct.

The "W" post is a fixed signal, like any other signal. Not all crossings have them, however. Some crossings are "private" (as distinguished from "public") and at many (most?) of these, there's no whistle post. However, I reckon just about all engineers WILL sound a warning if a vehicle is approaching anyway.

Regarding "quiet zones". I can remember years ago, coming through Meriden (CT), which had numerous crossings, you only sounded the horn for the first crossing, then proceeded through the next several without the horn. This was by agreement between the railroad and the town.

Later on (may have been at insistence of FRA, not sure), this was rescinded and you sounded the horn for each crossing (noisy).

Down the line in Wallingford, they now have "quiet crossings" with flashers, gates, and a loudspeaker. The train doesn't blow the horn, but the speaker does. Doesn't quite sound right to me (sitting in a car), but that's how they want it.

I've also noticed a new style fixed signal (installed after I retired) -- a "flashing X" mounted on a mast, in advance of the crossing -- where the "W" post might have previously been located.

When I first saw it (from a road bridge), I wondered "what's that for?". Then I figured it out: if you're operating a train approaching the crossing, the "flashing X" indicates that the crossing sound system is functioning as intended. If for some reason the X is NOT flashing, then it indicates a malfunction and rule 14L should be sounded by the approaching engine...

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Posted by wjstix on Saturday, September 17, 2022 2:08 PM

Except that would mean each railroad could decide when to blow for crossings. In fact there are state laws and FRA requirements. I know we have some working railroaders here, if they can show a rulebook saying "if there's not a whistle marker, you don't have to blow the horn", then I guess that's correct.

BTW here in Minnesota, state law says it's a misdemeanor if an engineer fails to ring the bell and blow the horn/whistle in accordance with FRA regulations...which are discussed here:

https://railroads.dot.gov/sites/fra.dot.gov/files/2019-11/FRA%20Train%20Horn%20and%20Quiet%20Zone%20Fact%20Sheet.pdf

 

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Posted by BigJim on Saturday, September 17, 2022 7:50 PM

wjstix
if they can show a rulebook saying "if there's not a whistle marker, you don't have to blow the horn", then I guess that's correct.

Note that the document that you linked states "all public road crossings". Public road crossings will have whistle boards...blow the horn. Private road crossings will not have whistle boards...horn blowing NOT required and also applies to quiet zones.

.

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Posted by Overmod on Monday, September 19, 2022 10:00 AM

Just read 49 CFR 222.  There you will learn that at all public grade crossings without suitable SSM with satisfactory QZRI to satisfy annual review against the NSRT by the FRA, you blow based on time -- at least 15sec but no longer than 20sec before the crossing, with the last note prolonged if needed until the train is on the crossing.  (Gracefully, the Government allows a good-faith exception for engineers who can't gauge the time to a crossing effectively: a whole five more seconds (e.g. 25 seconds of blowing) before enforcement kicks in.  (You can find the consequences of that  enforcement elsewhere in the CFR but I'm not going to bother.)

There is, in fact, a mention about distance in the horn rule.  It states that you start blowing not more than a quarter mile from the crossing, even if that means that the train will reach the crossing in less than the 15 seconds minimum mentioned in the rule.

This produces a curious mathematical result.  A usual 'cadence' for a long-long-short-long is about 6 and a quarter seconds.  Taking the quarter-mile as a guide, that implies about a mile in 25 seconds before the 15-second concern would be exceeded.  I make that right around 145mph, which is 35 miles faster than permitted across non-four-quadrant gates and 20mph above the speed where no grade crossings are permissible at all.  

As far as I know, if whistle posts were ever 'mandated' the current Federal statute ought to override that.  State law (which I am NOT going to go through) MIGHT justify these as enhancing safety.  I always thought of whistle posts as reminders of upcoming crossings, not something required for any public crossing.

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Posted by wjstix on Monday, September 19, 2022 10:37 AM

BigJim
 
wjstix
if they can show a rulebook saying "if there's not a whistle marker, you don't have to blow the horn", then I guess that's correct.

 

Note that the document that you linked states "all public road crossings". Public road crossings will have whistle boards...blow the horn. Private road crossings will not have whistle boards...horn blowing NOT required and also applies to quiet zones.

 
Can you cite a federal regulation that says all public grade crossings must have a whistle board? As I pointed out, in my old home town the rail line through town crossed a number of city streets - all public road crossings - and the whistle/horn was blown every time a train crossed them. But there were no whistle boards to be seen.
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Posted by jeffhergert on Monday, September 19, 2022 5:51 PM

Where there are multiple crossings close together they may use one whistle post with a number on it. The number indicates how many crossings the whistle post is for.

Jeff 

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Posted by BigJim on Monday, September 19, 2022 9:21 PM

wjstix
Can you cite a federal regulation that says all public grade crossings must have a whistle board? As I pointed out, in my old home town the rail line through town crossed a number of city streets - all public road crossings - and the whistle/horn was blown every time a train crossed them. But there were no whistle boards to be seen.

What I can't do is quote any specific instructions regarding the road crossings in question that are governed by the employee timetable. Can you?

.

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Posted by zugmann on Tuesday, September 20, 2022 5:31 AM

jeffhergert
Where there are multiple crossings close together they may use one whistle post with a number on it. The number indicates how many crossings the whistle post is for.

Must be a UP/GCOR thing.  

 

Ours just say "WMX".  No number.  You just have to blow for all the crossings coming up. 

  

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Posted by wjstix on Friday, September 23, 2022 10:12 AM

BigJim
 
wjstix
Can you cite a federal regulation that says all public grade crossings must have a whistle board? As I pointed out, in my old home town the rail line through town crossed a number of city streets - all public road crossings - and the whistle/horn was blown every time a train crossed them. But there were no whistle boards to be seen.

 

What I can't do is quote any specific instructions regarding the road crossings in question that are governed by the employee timetable. Can you?

 

No because I'm talking about federal regulations, not railroad company rules. The FRA says trains must blow their horn for all public grade crossings, unless the crossing has been designated a 'quiet zone' (which the FRA does allow).

A railroad can put up whistle boards to alert crews to upcoming crossings. But whether the railroad puts up whistle boards or not, the federal regulations still say they have to blow the horn at public crossings.

Stix
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Posted by BigJim on Saturday, September 24, 2022 12:04 PM

Once again, try to get this through your head..."Public" is different than "Private"!

NO WHISTLE BOARD...NO HORN BLOWING REQUIRED!

.

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Posted by jeffhergert on Saturday, September 24, 2022 10:43 PM

We have 3 crossings that are public crossings on my run where there have never been whistle posts for the 24 years I've been on the railroad.  Two are on minimum maintenance roads where you seldom see a vehicle.  The third crossing is now just a glorified field entrance.  There once was a road, but a bridge about 500 feet beyond the railroad crossing has been long gone.  On the other side of the tracks is US 30 and a county gravel road.  Signage coming down the gravel road indicate traffic has to go either left or right on US 30.  Even so, it's still technically a "public" crossing. 

No one, until fairly recently blew the horn for any of these crossings.  PTC is equipped to sound the horn for crossings and will blow for these 3 crossings.  (I started blowing the horn for the first 2 crossings a couple years back when I realized they still are listed as public crossings.

And we do have some private crossings that have whistle posts because they are private access roads to some industries and can have heavy vehicle traffic at times.

Milwaukee Road employee time tables used to have an item in their special instructions section that stated Iowa law required the horn to be sounded at both public and private crossings.  Of the ETTs I have for railroads operating in Iowa, none of the others have that item. 

Whether or not Milwaukee crews blew all the crossings, I couldn't say now. 

Jeff

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