Wondering about loud train horns ?

Sheridan Hill

Got a question about something in the Swannanoa Valley? The Question Corner is a semi-regular feature that will get answers for you. Submit your questions tonews@blackmountainnews.com or PO Box 9, Black Mountain, NC 28711. The Black Mountain News is creating a few questions until reader-submitted questions come in more regularly.

YOU ASKED: When coming through town, why does the train sometimes blast its signal so loud and so often, including in the middle of the night when people are sound asleep? Can’t anything be done to reduce the length and loudness of the train warning sounds?

ANSWER: Several websites explain the laws, ordinances and procedures applicable to train horns. Because trains have a much longer stopping distance than cars and because trains do not stop at grade crossings, the Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has tightly regulated the use of train horns, as explained on its website.

Before entering public highway-rail crossings such as those in Black Mountain, train conductors must begin sounding locomotive horns 15 to 20 seconds in advance and no more than one-quarter mile (1320 feet) in advance.

There is a process for establishing a quiet zone within a town, but the costs are significant, including a $5,400 quiet zone administrative handling fee just to make an application. First, all local parties must agree, including elected representatives and law enforcement. Secondly, the crossing involved must be newly equipped with warning devices - flashing lights, gates, warning devices, and power out indicators, according to an FRA document about how to create a quiet zone. A four-quadrant gate system runs between $300,000 and $500,000, and the warning system, which also includes a cabin to house the system, runs between $185,000 and $400,000.

Bothersome as they may be, the train horns save lives. According to Wikipedia, when the state of Florida passed a ban on train horns, the accident rate doubled, so the ban was removed.

Black Mountain resident Sheridan Hill is a personal biographer, a native Tar Heel, and a terrible know-it-all.