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Transit Bells

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Transit Bells
Posted by zugmann on Saturday, December 24, 2022 9:34 PM

Ok, this is just one of those weird questions that popped in my head after falling down some youtube rabbit holes:

 

Why do so many streetcars have bells (or gongs, I guess) and no horns, but subways have horns but no bells? 

  

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer, any other railroad, company, or person.

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Posted by MidlandMike on Saturday, December 24, 2022 9:53 PM

If you ever have been in a NY subway station when a train comes in, you would understand why they need something louder then a bell.

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Posted by SD70Dude on Saturday, December 24, 2022 11:08 PM

Just a theory since I know very little about the early history of street railways, when did air brakes on streetcars become common? 

Railway whistles or horns tend to run on compressed air (or steam) while a lot of bells don't even need electricity, which also wouldn't have been available on horse or cable-powered systems.  Maybe the street railway industry just kept using what they originally had?

The LRT cars in Edmonton and Calgary have both, the old U2s (Calgary has since retired theirs) had a mechanical streetcar bell and what sounds like a car horn, while the newer SD-160s have electronic versions of both.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i5nDBsG6j9U

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tKHCF6pFpCs

I once saw a C-Train motorman lay on the horn and drop the track brake to avoid hitting a car on 7 Ave, the street running section downtown.  Quite the attention grabbing combination.

Greetings from Alberta

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, December 26, 2022 7:10 AM

A very good reason is to deferentiate the sound of the fixed-lane streetcar from the free-wheeling vehicles sharing the street.

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Posted by NKP guy on Friday, December 30, 2022 2:32 PM

   My theory:  Since people associated steam locomotives with bells (into & out of stations, going slowly crossing streets, etc.), when streetcars came along it seemed logical to use a bell sound to alert traffic and pedestrians.  Whistles and horns used on the street would likely startle people and "frighten the horses."  

   On the Shaker Heights Rapid Transit Lines, the first fleet of cars were former 1914 Cleveland streetcars, equipped with floor gongs and also sporting whistles, but I would guess these were added for SHRT use when no longer used on downtown Cleveland streets (c.1920). These cars ran in a mixed urban - suburban setting.  In my experience, the motormen made use of both devices during normal operation.

   The second fleet of PCC cars all had one toggle switch for the bell and another toggle switch for the horn. The PCC's had a bell; the earlier fleet had melifluous, resonant gongs

   On fantrips using (1914) car #12, blowing the whistle long and hard as the car entered the Union Terminal and then looped around, was a lot of memorable fun for young railfans.

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Posted by rcdrye on Friday, December 30, 2022 7:59 PM

Most city streetcar systems required the use of gongs - a holdover from horse or cable days (Think San Francisco on the Muni's cable lines).  Even interurbans that operated on street tracks were expected to use the gongs, eiher by company policy or by local ordinance.  In contrast, operation on open track, even inside city limits, often brought the use of horns or air whistles.

This is easy enough to see on museum cars.  Boston Elevated Railway (MBTA) 5821 at Seashore has only gongs, Eastern Massachusetts Street Railway 4387, which operated over Boston tracks as well as EMSRy tracks, has both. Connecticut Co. cars usually have both.

Big CNS&M and CA&E cars still have gongs - CA&E operated on Broadway in Aurora until 1939.

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Saturday, December 31, 2022 1:04 PM

About 20 years or so ago I watched a VERY well done local PBS show on the Richmond city streetcars.  The system was eliminated in the late 1940's and some of the motormen who were still living were interviewed.

One was asked if (hypothetically) the streetcars were brought back would he be interested in driving them again.  "Sure!" he said, "As long as they don't have those damn bells on 'em that nobody seemed to pay attention to!"  

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Posted by NKP guy on Saturday, December 31, 2022 4:33 PM

   Laughing heartily here, Flintlock!  Ain't it the truth?  Kind of like the backing-up beeping that certain trucks or construction vehicles make, or those car alarms that never seem to prevent car theft!  Urban noises, all part of what Dick Powell was referring to in "42nd Street": "The big parade goes on for years; It's the song I love, the melody of, 42nd Street!"

   Happy New Year to you, Flintlock & Lady Firestorm, and everyone else here at these Forums.

 

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Saturday, December 31, 2022 5:25 PM

And the same to you NKP Guy!  And many more!  

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Saturday, December 31, 2022 11:30 PM

   I always enjoyed all the bells -- "dink-dink" to go, "dink" to stop, "ching" for cash fares, "chang" for transfers, but the "bong bong bong" for "get outta the way" always struck me as way too weak.  With all the other street noises, nobody paid any attention to it.

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Posted by Flintlock76 on Sunday, January 1, 2023 1:02 PM

Just for curiosity's sake I pulled out my copy of E.J. Quinby's "Interurban Interlude" just to see what kind of noisemakers the North Jersey Rapid Transit had on their 1910 Jewett interurban cars, since an interurban car was basically a trolley on steroids. 

In addition to Keystone pneumatic reiterating gongs and Howard bells they also had Keystone 12" air whistles. For what it's worth.  

Going through the specs I can see these were very well-built and equipped cars!

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Posted by NKP guy on Sunday, January 1, 2023 2:35 PM

Paul of Covington
   I always enjoyed all the bells -- "dink-dink" to go, "dink" to stop, "ching" for cash fares, "chang" for transfers, but the "bong bong bong" for "get outta the way" always struck me as way too weak

   That's exactly what those bells sounded like!  It's fun to express phonetically a sound.  In San Francisco they use the most annoying bell sound I've ever heard on their PCC's and heritage fleet: "Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring, brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring."  Awful!

   For bell aficianados, that city's cable cars have a unique sound one would know anywhere. On the weekend of Independence Day there is usually a cable car bell ringing contest in Union Square for the cars' gripmen.  To hear these guys ringing their own signature sound, or even a popular song (!), is a real pleasure, and an invitation to share in the special culture of a city that still boasts real streetcars and real cable cars.

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

 

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Posted by Paul of Covington on Monday, January 2, 2023 12:28 AM

NKP guy
"Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring, brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrring."  Awful!

   That sounds like it might be the same kind of bell they added to the ends of the N. O. streetcars when they converted to one-man operation.  They activate when the car turns a corner, I guess as a warning about the overhang.

   And speaking of awful, I always found the "braaaachk" of the buzzer that sounded when you pulled the cord to let the operator know you wanted to get off very irritating.  I never used it.  I just stood by the front door and the motorman always stopped.

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Posted by rcdrye on Monday, January 2, 2023 7:35 AM

The Keystone air gongs and similar devices require a bit of skill to get the required number of rings.  Two is "starting to go forward", but it's easy to end up with three, signalling a backup move.  The TARS cars that went to Vienna have a very auto-like horn in addition to the foot gong.  Not sure if that's original to New York or not.

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Posted by CSSHEGEWISCH on Wednesday, January 4, 2023 10:07 AM

Paul of Covington

   And speaking of awful, I always found the "braaaachk" of the buzzer that sounded when you pulled the cord to let the operator know you wanted to get off very irritating.  I never used it.  I just stood by the front door and the motorman always stopped.

 
The buzzer cord wasn't that bad.  I don't know about other operations, but CTA encouraged using the exit door toward the rear to speed up loading at the front.  On CTA and PACE, the buzzer has been replaced by a bell tone which also activates a "Stop Requested" sign at the front.
The daily commute is part of everyday life but I get two rides a day out of it. Paul
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Posted by Paul of Covington on Wednesday, January 4, 2023 10:06 PM

CSSHEGEWISCH
CTA encouraged using the exit door toward the rear to speed up loading at the front.

   Ah, but I was talking about the good ole days back in the fifties, with two-man operation, when everyone entered at the rear and paid the conductor.  I don't know all the details, but today there's a fare-box up front that takes cash (and credit cards, I think), and you can get all-day passes and monthly passes.  The modern world is not as much fun.

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