Train Warning Horns
The sounding of locomotive horns or whistles as trains approach highway-rail grade crossings has been used as a safety precaution by railroads since the late 1800's. "Whistle bans" have been established in some locations by local ordinance or through agreements with particular railroads. Unfortunately, the silencing of locomotive horns greatly increases the safety hazard to vehicles at grade crossings.
In 1994, Congress passed legislation that required FRA to issue regulations mandating the use of train horns at public grade crossings, with several exceptions. One exception allows communities to implement "supplementary safety measures" at grade crossings to compensate for train horn or whistle blowing.
The term "supplementary safety measure'' refers to a safety system or procedure, provided by the appropriate traffic control authority or law enforcement authority responsible for safety at the highway-rail grade crossing, that is determined by the Secretary to be an effective substitute for the locomotive horn in the prevention of highway-rail casualties. A traffic control arrangement that prevents careless movement over the crossing (e.g., as where adequate median barriers prevent movement around crossing gates extending over the full width of the lanes in the particular direction of travel), and that conforms to standards prescribed by the Secretary under this subsection, shall be deemed to constitute a supplementary safety measure. The following do not, individually or in combination, constitute supplementary safety measures within the meaning of this subsection: standard traffic control devices or arrangements such as reflectorized crossbucks, stop signs, flashing lights, flashing lights with gates that do not completely block travel over the line of railroad, or traffic signals.
Grade crossing collisions are preventable when drivers cautiously heed the advance warning signs and approach all grade crossings looking and listening for a train. Motorists must also comply with Texas state laws, requiring obedience to a signal indicating the approach of a train. There are 4,882 Texas public at-grade crossings equipped with active warning devices (i.e., automatic gates and/or flashing lights and bells or interconnected highway-traffic signals) to alert motorists that a train is approaching. Forty-four percent of the 2000 vehicle-train collisions occurred at grade crossings with active warning devices, and of those crashes, 8 percent occurred because the driver drove around the gates.
According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, a motorist is 40 times more likely to be killed if involved in a vehicle-train crash than in any other type of highway collision.
Between 1980 and 2000, 7,046 people have been killed or injured in vehicle-train collisions in Texas.
Texas experienced 388 vehicle-train collisions in 2000, more than any other state. Texas had 6 percent more crashes in 2000 than in 1999 when there were 365 collisions. Fifty-two people were fatally injured in 2000 in Texas compared with 41 in 1999.
A major factor contributing to the record number of grade crossing collisions in Texas is the fact that Texas has a great many crossings. The FRA (Federal Railroad Administration) reported that as of August 2001 Texas has a total of 18,255 public and private at-grade crossings. With 12,067 public at-grade crossings and approximately 6,188 private at-grade crossings, Texas has more at-grade crossings than any other state.