Resources > Locomotive Horn Signals

Locomotive Horn Signals

Signals Listed in the UPRR Handbook

Ever wondered why the UP locomotives running on the track just down the block from your house always sound their horns four times when approaching your street? Or heard a whole series of short whistle blasts and wondered what they meant? Railroads are required by a variety of state laws to sound horns in advance of all crossings (new federal regulations regarding crossing signals are also under consideration). Basically, horns are sounded for safety reasons to warn of approaching trains. Following are the required horn signals listed in the UPRR rule book, along with their meanings. Signals are illustrated by an "o" for short sounds and "=" for longer sounds.

Horn Signals

Often, people who live near railroad tracks think of locomotive whistles as an unnecessary irritation, especially in the wee hours of the morning. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which enforces rail safety regulations, has studied the possibility of banning locomotive horns where crossings can be equipped with full quadrant gates so motorists can't drive around them, but there's been no ruling on this, as yet. A ban on locomotive horns in Florida was ordered removed by the FRA after it was shown that the accident rate doubled during the ban.

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Sound Indication
Succession of
short sounds
Used when an emergency exists, or persons or livestock are on the track. When crews on other trains hear this signal, they must stop until it is safe to proceed.
=When train is stopped. The air brakes are applied and pressure is equalized.
= =Train releases brakes and proceeds.
o oAcknowledgment of any signal not otherwise provided for.
o o oWhen train is stopped: means backing up, or acknowledgment of a hand signal to back up.
o o o oA request for a signal to be given or repeated if not understood.
= o o oInstruction for flagman to protect rear of train.
= = = =The flagman may return from west or south.
= = = = =The flagman may return from east or north.
= = o =Train is approaching public crossings at grade with engine in front. Signal starts not less than one quarter mile before reaching the crossing, if distance permits. If distance does not permit, signal starts soon enough before the crossing to provide warning. Signal is prolonged or repeated until the engine occupies the crossing. This signal is used to warn employees when the view is restricted.
o =Inspect the brake system for leaks or sticking brakes.
Courtesy of Union Pacific Railroad
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