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Question about rules for horn usage at grade crossings

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  • Member since
    January 2013
  • 1,034 posts
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.


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.....






(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!)


  • Member since
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  • From: Danbury Freight Yard
  • 448 posts
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...

  • Member since
    May 2020
  • 1,054 posts
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.


  • Member since
    April 2001
  • From: Roanoke, VA
  • 2,015 posts
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.


  • Member since
    January 2019
  • 2,560 posts
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. 

  • Member since
    September 2003
  • From: Omaha, NE
  • 10,613 posts
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 :

  • Member since
    August 2003
  • From: Collinwood, Ohio, USA
  • 16,220 posts
Posted by gmpullman on Wednesday, August 31, 2022 4:55 PM

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

  • Member since
    January 2004
  • From: Canada, eh?
  • 13,375 posts
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.


  • Member since
    January 2019
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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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