Horn Signals: A Required Safety Precaution

We know you hear us… we want you to know that we hear you, too. That’s why the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway is providing the following information that explains the horn signals that our trains sound at all road crossings.

Q – Who governs railroad locomotive horn use?
A – In 2005, the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which enforces rail safety, published a Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings regulations (49 CFR 222).  It brought to a close an 8-year debate on the subject.
The Final Rule required that locomotive horns be sounded at all public grade crossings 15-20 seconds before entering a crossing, but not more than one-quarter mile in advance. Federal regulations also required the horn generate a minimum sound level of 96db(A) and a maximum of 110 db(A) when measured 100 feet in front of the locomotive. 

Q – Why is the horn signal composed of short and long sounds? 
A - The required pattern for horn use is two long, one short, and one long sound.  The last note end must end when the locomotive fully occupies the crossing.  Locomotive engineers retain the authority to sound the horn as they deem necessary in emergency situations.

Q – Can a community ban train horns? 
A - Federal regulations preempt and prohibit any state or local laws governing train horn use at public crossings. The regulations do, however, provide public authorities the option to establish “quiet zones” provided certain supplemental or alternative safety measures are in place and the crossing accident rate meets a FRA standard. Alternative safety measures can cost as much a $1 million per crossing and take years to design and install. Traditionally, State and Federal funding is focused on demonstrated safety needs leaving local governments to bear this cost. Read more about the FRA Rule on Quiet Zones

Q – Is there anything that the Santa Cruz & Monterey Bay Railway can do? 
A – Yes! You now understand that Federal regulations do not allow the Railroad to use a lower volume or reduce the time the horns sounds. However, in response to several citizen comments, we are installing a more melodic and hopefully more esthetically pleasing new horn. The Leslie S-3L has three perfectly-tuned tones (the original horns had just one tone). This horn is also special because it’s a relic from the golden age of passenger rail service.

Q – Where can I learn more? 
A - For a more detailed explanation of these regulations please visit the FRA safety webpage 

Q – How can I ask additional questions or share concerns? 
A - If you have additional questions or concerns please write them here. We will provide an answer from the appropriate staff member(s) based on the subject of your question.