Train horn complaint lands at city council – Hasso Hering


A perspective from Oregon’s mid-Willamette Valley

Train horn complaint lands at city council

Written March 26th, 2019 by Hasso Hering

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Doug Hiddleson and some of his neighbors on S.W. Washington Street are fed up with the volume of the horn of Switch Engine 1501 of the Portland & Western Railroad, and they’ve turned to the city for help.

Hiddleson owns an automotive shop on the railroad side of the street, just south of the Queen Avenue crossing. On Monday he went before the Albany City Council to give notice that he and a neighboring business owner plan to appear before a regular council session to air their noise complaint.

He has talked to the railroad and others and the answer he usually gets is that train horns are a federal issue and there’s nothing that can be done. He wants the railroad and the employees operating the switch engine in the Albany yard to consider that they’re working in a neighborhood where people live and work.

Locomotive drivers are required to sound their warning horns before entering a crossing. Hiddleson has no problem with that. It’s the volume and length of the warning blasts all hours of the day and night he worries about. He recorded one ear-shattering blast that lasted 13 seconds and played it for the council Monday. Union Pacific and Albany & Eastern freights and Amtrak trains sound their horns at the crossing too, but Hiddleson says not nearly as loud or as long.

Councilman Alex Johnson II was aware of the problem. He said he was in a nearby business and could not talk on the phone when the switch engine’s air horn went off.

Mayor Sharon Konopa asked Hiddleson to send her his video recording, and the city will see if anything can be done. Councilman Bill Coburn looked up the regulations on train horn volume and cited allowed decibel levels. He doesn’t buy the idea that it’s federal and nothing can be done. At the railroad, he said, “there’s gotta be a guy we can talk to.”

The Federal Railroad Administration says train horns must between 96 and 110 decibels loud 100 feet in front of the train. The standard warning at grade crossings is two long blasts, followed by one short and another long one. Hiddleson’s next step is to find somebody with a decibel meter to document the level of sound.

On Tuesday afternoon I spent 20 minutes at the crossing, listening to the switcher sound its horn a few times. I talked with Hiddleson at his shop and also with a woman watching over children who were playing in the driveway of an apartment across the street. The sound level that afternoon, she told me, was not as loud as it sometimes has been, but it still wakes the kids when they’re trying to take a nap. (hh)

Doug Hiddleson at work in his shop near the tracks on Tuesday afternoon.

35 responses to “Train horn complaint lands at city council”

  1. J. Hanschlatter says:

    When society values life above convenience, this is about all society should expect.

  2. Jim Engel says:

    Doesn’t Eugene have a “No Horns” ordinance?? In my opinion there is no earthly reason for such noise. There are crossing arms to warn traffic in place already. A car horn would be as effective. Some of those engineers must be frustrated trumpet players from the mournful sounds they make!

    • Jeff says:

      Quiet zones exist, as in Salem, but can be expensive to implement. They also would be a problem at a often used crossing such as Queen Ave.

      For a 13 second blast, I would suggest that the citizen be looking for the driver, rider or pedestrian that was making the engineer nervous – they really don’t like running over people. Not only is the paperwork annoying, the PTSD can be a life-long issue.

      • Doug says:

        Sir there was nobody there, I walk down there at 3 in the morning where there was no cars no people just the train and the engineer .

  3. Leroy says:

    I can relate to the sound of the train horn as i live close enough to see what color hair the engineer has as he gives a hoot or 2. 2 hoots means he is moving, we do want to know when the train is moving. I have had people over who said there is no way they could not live so close to the train. That is partly why i got a deal to buy the place. The wail of a fire or police siren would seem worse as you know someone is injured each time you hear it. Moderating the horn pull time, it is a spring loaded rope they pull to activate it. 2 long pulls when approaching a crossing is their rules. An engineer who has ran over someone may want to be doubly sure people hear him.

    • Greg Ballard says:

      Thank you Leroy
      I’m sure everyone that moved to the area knew that trains are noisy. Just as you did. The train horn has been around how long?
      Oh yea, as long as trains, and this should not change for a few people that are annoyed by it.

  4. thomas cordier says:

    When driving to the State Capitol in Salem from Mission St.—trains go by w/o any horn blowing and the sign say there will be no horns so watchout. The trains cross intersections too–yet no horns. Different rules for elected folks??

    • LKT says:

      The area in Salem is a designated whistle free zone. There are others here and there, mostly in busy urban areas, and they require additional crossing protection (four quadrant gates on two way streets, etc). That does not prohibit an engineer from using the horn if or when there is a need to warn someone. And given the number of pedestrians and bicyclists I’ve witnessed go around the gates, I am sure even with a whistle free zone at Queen, you’d still hear a whistle now and then.

    • Rick Cornish says:

      The City of Salem went through a process, working through the Federal Railroad Admin., to modify several downtown crossings so they could be “horn free”. Eugene’s in the middle of that process now, I believe. Albany should check into it.

  5. Sara Miller says:

    Not living in that area, the whistle does not bother me that much. HOWEVER, two things do, the length of time they sometimes take in switching cars ( thought that was to be done in Millersburg?); and how horrible that crossing is. It destroys cars being so rough. There are no places you can find that does not tear cars up even when creeping across.

  6. S. Whittle says:

    For reasons related to commerce a long time ago, the railroads and their supporters have a stranglehold on cities across the US. Combine this with the intransigence demonstrated by ODOT, the City and County and what do you get? Hourly delays at a very busy intersection caused by railroad companies doing work that could largely be done at night. Oh yeah…you get tire-destroying, suspension-ruining track crossings that no one will pay to fix. Thank god for the railroads.

    • J. Hanschlatter says:

      This ongoing Anti-Train evisceration must be exposed for what it is…part and parcel of the Alexandria Occasional-Cortes’ Green New Deal deal.

      Whingeing car drivers – Railroads built America. Get over yourselves. Don’t believe me? Gordon Lightfoot alluded to the astounding significance of train culture in his beloved “Railroad Trilogy.”

  7. Sarah says:

    I live off 12th and especially in the evenings the train horns are extra loud and long it seems. Somedays it is definitely louder and longer than others. Maybe a few of us should keep a log because I bet on those days it is a different operator than the normally loud days.

  8. Pam says:

    I live in Lebanon and the loud horns seem to go off way to often and long.

  9. abcarswell says:

    Actually the federal regulations require sounding the horn at least 15 seconds but no more than 20 seconds. Thanks to Mr. Hiddleson for pointing out to Federal Inspectors and railroad managers that actually the engineers are not blowing the horn long enough.

    • Hasso Hering says:

      Actually, according to Union Pacific, “the Final Rule (on horns at crossings) requires 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.” There’s nothing about how long the horn blasts must be.

  10. Wally Beaver says:

    As someone who is a locomotive engineer, I ask all of you complaining to look at it from a different prospective. As you may be aware, the train’s whistle is sounded to provide warning to motorist, pedestrians, etc. Now imagine yourself as the engineer moving down the tracks approaching an intersection and not knowing if traffic and pedestrians are going to obey the law. I’ve been in the tragic and unfortunate situation where they didn’t obey the law, and because of it I have had to witness a husband hold his dying wife because he didn’t stop where he was supposed to. I have had to witness a father of 3 young kids lose his life because he failed to stop his motorcycle where he was supposed to. There are more situations, but the point is, had I not been doing my job properly and blowing the whistle, then how could I look myself in the mirror knowing I could have done more? Fortunately for me as a professional, I take my job seriously and recognize that the inconvenience of blowing the whistle is minor when comes to the safety of the community. Please think about this when you hear the whistle. It’s loud, obnoxious and unpleasant, but so are the tragic deaths I’ve personally witnessed.

    • centrist says:

      Thanks for the clarification. The signal is for public safety.
      Question — how you deal with multiple crossings in a short space?

    • Mary Derry says:

      Had 2 engineers in family, know about people not paying attention, trying to beat train.

    • Doug says:

      Sir,i agree with you 100% but I’m not speaking of the train it is moving down the tracks at any rate of speed I’m just speaking of the switching train 1501 at the Albany crossing at Queen Street. I’ve tried to clarify that as best I can.

  11. F. Oamer says:

    You’re looking for 49 USC s20153:

  12. D Wright says:

    If you weren’t there before the railroad you have no complaint because if you move in next to a railroad common sense tells you it’s going to be noisy.

  13. Kevin Reiman says:

    I live near the Salem Ave crossing and the train horns there are equally as loud and annoying. Especially at night when the locomotives idle along the track at the switching yard and repeatedly blast their horns as they idle back and forth.

    I would be an avid supporter of a no horns ordinance,

  14. centrist says:

    Pretty much all of the comments above (both thoughtful and snarky) were addressed HH’s previous article on this subject.
    One thing new here is the required sound level. 96 to 110 dB at 100ft is VERY loud.
    My first years in Albany (haven’t been here too long), I didn’t hear much signalling. Noticed a marked increase about a year ago. I suspect we’ll find it’s a code enforcement issue.
    Compliance with unintended side-effects, but no malice.

  15. Bob Bush says:

    I lived down there with my Grandma as a kid……late 50’s early 60’s…..train tracks were there then….still there. Grandpa was a steam engine builder….you would of loved those screamer’s. Cities were built around transportation…..the Oregon Trail….The Willamette River….The Airport’s…..Like Highway 20 through how many towns??….What planner would of originally designed these paths knowing that they may become obsolete, over used, over populated, too shallow or not long enough. What about back up alarms on service vehicles, handling equipment, even fast food places with sonic french fry alarms, things like that. I’m getting old and thankful I can still hear the trains. The river isn’t going to move, the airport isn’t going to move, the Oregon Trail is still there, Highway 20 isn’t going to move. I’m going to have some french fries and listen to the soulful Train Horns coming and going, music to some noise to others…..the Train Tracks aren’t moving, close Queen Street crossing, problem solved.

  16. Greg Ballard says:

    Were the trains there when you moved to that location. If so you had to know trains are all around noisy. And if they don’t sound a warning and hit someone. Then what lawsuit, of course.

  17. Duane A Taddei says:

    Someone should hit Doug up on Facebook and as him how loud his motorcycle is? Surely he understands that loud pipes save lives…..

    • Doug says:

      Actually my motorcycle is very quiet and I’ve got really loud horns but I use them responsibly. Still trying to figure out what that’s got to do with the switching train that crawls across the intersection that is not using its horn responsibly.

  18. beth victors says:

    It’s about time. Many blasts happen that are much longer than 13 seconds, usually 2:30-3:30 AM sunday nights. I’m many blocks away and get woken up 3-4 nights/wk. There are lights and gates, no reason for the excessive long horn blasts. Cities across the country have eliminated them or decreased the volume, no reason it can’t be done here.

  19. Cris Love says:

    That locomotive didn’t always have that k3la horn on it! Its other horn was quieter! That is a bit on the loud side! But you never know when someone is going to screw around and reek dangerous havic around that SD9! No engineer ever wants to experience running anyone over much less hitting them!!!

  20. John Grems Jr. says:

    I love it when someone moves next to the railroad and then complains about how loud it is. Weren’t the tracks there first? Remember the Trains blow their horns for the safety on the train crew and the community at large. This does sound like a buyers remorse type of thing. maybe they should have looked into where they were locating to before they purchased or rent at that local.

    • Doug says:

      Sir. I’ve lived in this town my whole life I’ve been in the same location for 15 years .what I love is people making comments before they have the facts this is about the switching train and it just started here about six months ago somebody new comes to the Albany yard. And has no respect for his neighbors.

  21. Doug Hiddleson says:

    Okay let me try and explain this one more time I am not speaking of any other train on that track except 1501 the switching train stops before it goes across the tracks sounds its horn by federal law no problem with that. The dash dash dot dash is not being followed it is at the engineers discretion of how long he holds the horn down and how hard he pulls on the air horn. I’ve tried contacting the engineers boss I talked to him all I’m trying to do is get a decibel reading and have them comply. Let me repeat this one more time only the 1501 switching train this is not the train that runs people over but its horn is loud enough so the person on the bicycle can’t hear the fast mover and gets killed seen it happen and it’s happened more than once.


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