I woke up this morning hating trains. All trains. Coal trains, freight trains, passenger trains. Which is ridiculous. There is nothing more romantic than the sound of a train horn echoing in the night.
But, I listened to trains all night as they rumbled through Bellingham, blowing their horns, as if they were stuck in rush hour traffic.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration’s “Train Horn Rule” (49 CFR Part 222), a locomotive engineer is required to blow a horn at every public highway – rail grade crossing as a safety precaution. But, it is not just one horn. Each crossing must be proceeded 4 blasts of the locomotive horn: 2 long blasts, 1 short blast, and 1 long blast. The duration of the horn sequence must last 15-20 seconds and the sound must be between 96 and 110 decibels. The rule also allows communities to establish quiet zones; however there is evidence that quiet zones increase accidents.
Under the train horn rule, locomotives crossing private and pedestrian rail grades are not required to sound the locomotive’s horn, unless required by the state. There is apparently no train horn rule in Washington State.
By my count there are 7 rail grade crossings in Bellingham. F Street, G Street, Central Avenue, Pine Street, and Harris Street are public crossings. Boulevard Park is a pedestrian rail crossing and I’m not sure about the crossing on the road by the Community Boating Center. But let’s say the conscientious locomotive engineer blows the horn at each crossing, just to be safe. For each trip through Bellingham the horn sounds 28 times.
RE Sources estimates that 12-15 trains pass through Bellingham each day. This means that there are currently 336-420 train horn blasts per day. With the expected increase in coal train traffic due to the development of the Gateway Pacific Terminal, an additional 18-20 trips through Bellingham are projected bringing the number of locomotive horn blasts to 840 to 980 per day.
I closed the window. I tried earplugs, but they didn’t work. I folded a pillow around my ears and piled another one on top. Finally, I turned on the light to read, wondering what the locals did to keep from going crazy. Unfortunately, the only book I’d brought was “Railroaded” by Richard White.