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May 29th, 2013 MARTY SMITH | Dr. Know
 

Dr. Know: Horning In

Why do trains still have to blow their horns in town?

drknowILLUSTRATION: Hawk Krall

Why in the name of the Almighty Monkey do we still have to suffer through trains blowing their horns as they crawl through town? I mean, this is 2013—can’t they figure out some better option than leaning on a loud, obnoxious horn?

—Tired of Getting Blown


What 21st-century solution do you suggest, Tired? Here’s what people on Twitter might say:

FreightHauler99

I’m comin thru get off the trax

RndmFreek

@FreightHauler99 Pics or it didn’t happen. Also im high on #PCP lol

You have to admit, there’s something about the pants-shitting immediacy of a train horn that even the most assiduous tweeting can’t match.

Anyway, don’t blame the engineer: They’re required to blow that horn. The regulation in question is called the Final Rule on the Use of Locomotive Horns—a name that strongly implies they’ve had just about enough of your bitching—and it requires four blasts 15 to 20 seconds before every crossing.

In populated areas with lots of crossings, this can amount to pretty much continuous honking. But look on the bright side: Out in the boonies, where there’s no one around to hear them, trains hardly have to blow their horns at all!

Protocols exist for creating something called a “quiet zone,” where the Final Rule is suspended. However, quiet zones require every crossing to be tricked out with expensive four-quadrant gates, which are specially designed to prevent even the most ingenious idiots from willfully blundering onto the tracks.

As annoying as the train whistles may be, by all accounts they do keep people from getting killed—so much so that Union Pacific Railroad’s official policy is to discourage quiet zones, though they comply with them when they’re created.

Thus, your letter illustrates a classic problem of civil society: This rule inconveniences me! On the other hand, it saves lives. But, y’know, not my life, so who cares?


QUESTIONS? Send them to dr.know@wweek.com

 
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