Train Whistles to be Silenced

Train whistles will be silenced once again, WINA reports. In June, the Federal Railroad Administration enacted new regulations on the use of train horns, requiring Norfolk Southern to blow their whistle at all public grade crossings in 13 communities around Virginia, including Charlottesville. The loud whistles annoyed people across the state, particularly folks living near tracks who found themselves woken several times each night by the whistling. The return of quiet in town is a result of Charlottesville gaining status as a quiet zone, which takes effect on August 12.

7 Responses to “Train Whistles to be Silenced”


  • The Hook had a good article a couple of weeks ago about why everyone had to suffer the noice inconvenience.

    http://readthehook.com/stories/2005/07/14/newsTrainPainUnderTheCover.html

    Basically the city didn’t file the paperwork on time.

  • so now, ungated RR crossings in c’ville will be more dangerous because people who bought houses next to a railroad track don’t like the fact that trains make noise? give me a break. if you didn’t want to be annoyed by loud trains, WHY DID YOU BUY A HOUSE NEXT TO RAILROAD TRACKS!!! as oblivous as drivers are in this town, i’m sure it’s only a matter of time before somebody gets plowed into by a train that had it’s warning whistle silenced by a bunch of whiners. go buy a house in the country if you want peace and quiet. you live in a city…cities have trains and trains have whistles. ugh.

  • I lived in the Pink Warehouse on South Street as a teenager. I really enjoyed living next to the tracks. (And I do mean right next to the tracks. I easily could have jumped out of my third-story window onto the train.) A train came through twice each night, and I found the sounds comfortable and familiar. When the engine came through, the sound was loud enough to inhibit conversation, but once that passed by, there was just the clickety-clack of the cars rolling through.

    A train whistle, on the other hand? Christ, no. That’s 144 decibels. 90 decibels is the sound level inside of a loud factory (requiring hearing protection). 120 decibels is the sound of a jet engine at full throttle from 100m away. 130 decibels is the threshold of pain. 144 decibels significantly exceeds the pain threshold. (Reference) In fact, from that page, here’s a handy chart:

    140 HUMAN THROAT AND VOCAL CORD VIBRATION BEGINS
    141 HUMAN BODY BEGINS TO FEEL NAUSEA AFTER A FEW MINUTES
    142 HUMAN BODY CHESTPOUNDING IS INTENSE
    142 (P) INSIDE A CAR WITH TWO PRO 18 INCH WOOFERS AND 300 WATTS EACH
    143 HUMAN BODY FEELS AS IF SOMEONE JUST FOOTBALL-TACKLED YOUR CHEST
    144 HUMAN NOSE ITCHES
    145 HUMAN VISION BEGINS TO VIBRATE MAKING IT SLIGHTLY BLURRY, 1-3 DEGREES

    Yes, if you live near the tracks you should definitely accept the sound of a train. But when that sound induces pain, nausea, and (bizarrely) nose-itching, it might be too loud. :)

  • cville_libertarian

    I grew up in town near the tracks, and as a student lived on West Main very close to the Amtrak station – yes, Waldo’s quite right: you can definitely get used to the sounds (and more importantly vibrations) of the trains – it actually became a soothing part of the environs for me. However, I had no idea the whistles were that loud! Yikes! I expect you wouldn’t get the list of terrible symptoms you list above unless you were standing right next to it, but even with the doors and windows shut, that would be terribly disruptive and unpleasant.

  • I don’t claim to understand acoustics — presumably, 144 decibels is at the site of the whistle, and in the 20 feet between the whistle and my ears up in my apartment, there’s a certain degree of falloff. (Though for anybody standing at the crossing, that’s only ~10 feet of falloff.) It’s still a pretty seriously loud sound. :)

  • making train whistles quieter is one thing. eliminating them altogether is another. i agree, 144 dB is too loud (where did you get that number, btw? the hook article said the minimum is 96 dB), but banning train whistles, to me, is akin to telling police, rescue and fire departments to stop using sirens. they’re a safety precaution, and removing them makes ungated crossings that much more dangerous.

    if the FRA or whoever says 96 dB is adequate for a train whistle, maybe they should look into making them quieter. or better yet, maybe they should just put gates up at all the ungated RR crossings. but it just pissed me off to hear some people saying, in essence, “i don’t care if people get hurt or killed by trains, i don’t want the warning whistles waking me up at night…even though i knowingly bought a house right next to the tracks.” that’s just assinine.

  • 144 dB is too loud (where did you get that number, btw? the hook article said the minimum is 96 dB)

    Congressional testimony. Several House reps spoke out against the recent change, arguing that they’re much too loud. That’s the number that they cited. I couldn’t find any other source of information as to the volume of them, but I have to admit that after I found that number, I didn’t look much longer.

    Your comments about the safety of crossings reminds me: The New York Times had an series of articles in the past year entitled “Death on the Tracks,” for which they won a bajillion awards. Walt Bogdanich’s extensive research showed that train/auto accidents are not only really, really common, but nearly always the fault of the railroad industry, because of malfunctioning or nonexistent safety equipment. The industry works hard to cover it up, sending out maintenance guys to fix or install safety equipment within hours of an accident, so that when the feds come in to investigate, they find that everything is hunky-dory. They have the series available on-line, and it’s well worth reading an article or two.

    I can only assume that the new requirement to use whistles is a result of this investigative series. If whistles help lower death rates, I think that’s great — I just wish they’d use quieter whistles. And I’d feel much better about it if I knew that railroads have also changed their ways w/r/t their safety equipment. If I knew that gates were being inspected and that lights were working, the whistles may not be so important.

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