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Disruption From Late Night Train Whistling Can Be Curbed

by on July 15, 2014

Rail and Reason receives some very interesting emails, and literally, from all over.

One such recent correspondence was from Tasmania.

Yes, Tasmania.

For those of you as rusty as some of the rail equipment that is used here in Canada, Tasmania is located just off the south of Australia.

Things in Tasmania were apparently fine between communities and the local railway, until the rail company purchased some new locomotives from the U.S. that, as we were told, “have us all up in arms and sleepless as they go through several times in the dead of night with their 90 decibel racket.”

That was in May that we first heard of this problem. To be clear, we mean May 2014, as in this year.

Unlike back here in Canada, where we’ve fumbled around for years only to maintain the apparent status quo all too often, disrupting the sleep and impacting the health of Canadians in the process, our “Tassy’ friends have made consider progress in record time in maintain a balance between rail safety and community health.

The following article appeared in the June 27, 2014 edition of the Tasmanian newspaper, “The Advocate,” in an article penned by Caitlin Heathcote:

TasRail has announced some changes to its horn guidelines to combat community concern regarding train whistle noises


“Resolution to Train Horn Noise” (The Advocate, Tasmania)


June 27, 2014, midnight

TasRail has announced some changes to its horn guidelines to combat community concern regarding train whistle noises.

A LOW-note horn used between the hours of 10pm and 6am and a reduction in the minimum duration a horn must be sounded on approach to a level crossing are among changes being introduced by TasRail to combat community concern about its train whistle noises.

TasRail has announced some changes to its horn guidelines to combat community concern regarding train whistle noises.

Since TasRail upgraded its locomotive fleet to the newer TR class locos there has been considerable community concern regarding the noise level of the new whistles.

TasRail has been flooded with complaints from members of the community who have been woken during the night by the new, louder whistles.

Changes to take effect late next week will attempt to address the concern include:

.- A reduction in the minimum duration that the horn must be sounded on approach to level crossings (from four seconds to one second). 

– A “low-note” horn to be used between the hours of 10pm and 6am. 

– Removing the requirement to use the horn within TasRail’s operating and maintenance facilities in certain circumstances. If the horn is required to be sounded then the low-note horn will be used. 


It appears that, in some parts of the world, common sense is in more abundant supply and resident health is taken more seriously than what it is here.

Congratulations Tasmanian residents, and please send TasRail officials over here to speak to our railways about finding win-win solutions to blasting high-decibel whistles during the night, while ignoring the enormous impact that this is having on a growing number of people from all across Canada.

Please show our rail industry that there are, indeed, practical solutions to basic problems that go a long way towards improving relationships between communities and railways.

Our railways here in Canada desperately need a hand.

Send help please.



Sources for this article and photo include “Resolution to Train Horn Noise,” June 27, 2014, by Caitlin Heathcote, “The Advocate,” Tasmania.


© Copyright 2014



  1. Ryan permalink

    As a railway worker, I would love to never have to blow the horn again. I don’t like waking people up.

    However, we won’t ever be able to stop whistling as long as people keep doing the things that get them killed on rail tracks, and quieter whistles won’t be that solution.

    Transport Canada blamed this crash on the horn not being loud enough.

    Like I said, I sympathize. I don’t like my sleep being interrupted by loud children or barking dogs, and I know that train horns are loud. Until all crossings are removed(which seems to be happening in North Vancouver) we have to follow the rules and whistle those crossings.

    • trainjane permalink

      Ryan, as a railway employee, we welcome hearing from you.

      Train whistles are a serious problem on both sides of the equation, that part is clear. However, part of what we question is what we see as the diminishing effectiveness of train whistles overall, given the growing numbers of persons in the vicinity of rail operations plugged into their own audio devices, blocking out all surrounding sound, including auditory warnings.

      This, in itself, is a growing problem in our opinion, as is people who try to outrun an approaching train at a grade level crossing, which we’ve witnessed numerous times and is pretty scary to observe the near-misses of folks who seem oblivious as to the fact that a freight train can’t hit the brakes and stop like a sports car.

      Blasting the whistle louder isn’t going to stop either form of this kind of human stupidity. Whopping fines for the fools behind these acts might help, as might licence suspensions for drivers who don’t otherwise care about endangering those around them.

      We are not faulting the procedures and rules that you have to follow on the job. That’s anything but the case. Our criticism is in that, by even following these longstanding rules to the letter does not address some of the new forms of threats to rail safety, and the whole issue needs to be reviewed and addressed in a modern context.

      You referenced North Vancouver and the closings of streets along the waterfront. Prior to that, there was an escalation of complaints by residents there after Transport Canada stepped and insisted that train whistles be sounded louder in that area.

      This turned into a bit of an opportunity for the railway there, in that crossings were subsequently closed, which helped resolve the whistling issue. It also provided an opportunity for the railway to utilize longer trains through the area, which, as we’ve been told, has for some people substituted one form of rail noise (whistling) for increased noise from shunting trains.
      So, another problem…

      So, what’s the solution? Frankly, we think that all grade level crossings should be equipped with a basic illuminated gate and cross arm. It does not need to be the rocket science flashing lights, bells, and gates, in the hundreds of thousand of dollars per crossing, but a basic gate that drops down and lights up a warning to stop traffic prior to the train’s crossing.

      Yes, this would cost a great deal, but we question what the status quo is costing in terms of health impacts on Canadians facing relentless sleep disruption.

      It’s interesting in that sleep deprivation is an acknowledged form of torture… So, keeping the status quo, in our opinion, is not an option.

      We also feel that, at some crossings, an enhanced stop and proceed option where trains are stopping anyways (such as entering railyards) needs to be looked at. Blasting the whistle while rolling to a stop just after clearing the crossing is simply confusing and dangerous, in our opinion, as is blasting the whistle without entering the crossing (stopping short of it) – both situations we have observed numbers of times.

      The dependence on whistles simply does not address issues such as these, and we believe, does not adequately address safety concerns for either party.

      Obviously, there are times where using the whistle is crucial in helping to avoid a hazard, but the one-size-fits-all “pantyhose” approach works about as poorly as the pantyhose fit. (Ask any tall woman about that one!)

      As for the link you sent – thank you by the way – but it, in itself, illustrates a problem with whistling itself as the train was in reverse with the locomotives at the end of the train, and the freight ahead of it.

      I will say, from firsthand experience, that given that railway rules stipulate that a train should start using the whistle a quarter mile away from the crossing, that trains travelling in reverse need more than just a whistle to warn of their approach as the sound can be deceptively far off, with the freight itself sometimes blocking out part of the sound.

      I personally came within a second or two at the most by being hit by a train at a grade level crossing in the community where I live on a foggy night. I’d stopped at the crossing, and could not see more than a few feet around me. It was quiet, so I started to cross. At that point, I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye as a rail car entered the crossing also, just as the first blast of the whistle was sounded, well back from the crossing itself.

      I had no warning at all of an oncoming train in reverse. So what should have happened? I personally think the crossing should have been flagged. The whistle sure didn’t help.

      The problem, overall, again in my opinion comes down to the reluctance of rail companies to invest in the necessary upgrade in infrastructure and manpower to address problems that currently exist that will not directly benefit their profits, so communities suffer, and railway employees have no choice but to wake people up repeatedly throughout the night or jeopardize their jobs if they do not.

      And that is why I believe railway companies must be made fully accountable for the impacts of their operations upon human health, for their employees, and for the public.

      Thanks again for writing in.

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