BLE position on use of locomotive horns

The Federal Railroad Administration is currently seeking input regarding proposed rulemaking legislation for the use of locomotive horns.

The rule was proposed by the FRA in January in response to a law enacted by Congress in 1994 requiring locomotive horns to be sounded when a train approaches and enters a public highway-rail grade crossing.

The following is Part II of the BLE's official submission to the FRA on the use of locomotive horns. Part I appeared in the May 2000 issue of the Newsletter.

222.39 Quiet zone duration

FRA solicits comment on a three-year requirement versus a five-year requirement for affirming the effectiveness of a QZ under provisions of 222.33(b). BLE supports the three-year approach, and also FRA's statement that local circumstances and local efforts may mandate a more frequent review. BLE believes that the authority in 222.39(d) that FRA's Associate Administrator for Safety may review the status of a QZ at any time is an indispensable provision. The authority to terminate a QZ, if the conditions warrant, fulfills FRA's role of providing for public and railroad employee safety, while the interests of the affected community are safeguarded.

222.41 Supplementary and alternative safety measures

BLE reserves comment on the specific supplementary safety measures listed in Appendices A and B until those measures have been adequately studied and tested, and sufficient data exists to support or reject a particular measure. Section 222.41 is otherwise acceptable, provided the language stating that "[t]hese measures, based on the best available data, have been determined by FRA to be an effective substitute for the locomotive horn in the prevention of highway-rail casualties" is not interpreted or applied so as to provide an unlimited franchise to include any SSM or ASM in the Appendix based on a very limited assessment. The evaluation of a SSM on a small number of crossings may not represent the total exposure to risk for all crossings. Obviously, a SSM that provides an absolute barrier may prove to be acceptable without the necessity for a broad study. Those based on a less certain method will need an unbiased and thorough analysis generated from a broad spectrum of crossings. The evaluation of a SSM should account for differences in crossing characteristics. Those differences should include, at a minimum: geographic location; motor vehicle traffic patterns; crossing history; train activity; and driver behavior.

For example, BLE does not believe the present evaluation of the wayside horn is sufficient to justify its immediate inclusion as a supplementary safety measure. The comprehensive evaluation of the system installed in Gering, Nebraska, and presented in the 1998 report entitled Field Evaluation of a Wayside Horn at a Highway-Railroad Grade Crossing is an excellent study and contains useful information. It does, however, reflect the experience of only two crossings in a single community. The crossings involved, and the situation surrounding the test project, have not been demonstrated to be typical of other crossings and communities where the wayside horn may be installed. Additional locations where they have been placed - Ames, Iowa; Parsons, Kansas; and Bailey Street in Wichita, Kansas -- may provide additional data for further evaluation. BLE recommends that additional studies be conducted in areas where gate violations are a frequent occurrence and pose a genuine risk to the public and to locomotive crew members.

222.43 Development and approval of new supplementary safety measures

BLE supports FRA's imposing conditions or limitations on orders to not sound the horn for test purposes issued under this section. We recommend that the SSM being tested give consideration to the perspective of crew members in the locomotive cab. The rule should require that the train's crew receive a written addition that testing is being conducted. Moreover, a means should be afforded for the crew to provide feedback on the efficacy of the SSM being tested.

222.45 Communities with pre-existing restrictions on use of locomotive horns

BLE recognizes and appreciates the hard work and sincerity the communities and FRA have devoted to the preliminary projects. The exemption of the provisions for validating the efficacy of the measures as provided in 222.39(b) may create problems if measures taken in one area are proven to have failed in another. BLE believes that it would be a mistake to underestimate the ingenuity and boldness of those who today willfully violate warning signs, gates and the law, risking property damage, personal injury and, ultimately, their lives, merely to arrive at their destination a bit more quickly. Therefore, BLE requests that the rule explicitly state that the provisions for termination of a QZ, if the conditions warrant as provided in 222.39(d), apply to these "grandfathered" crossings as well.

Appendices A and B

Appendix A -- Supplemental Safety Measures

As a general matter, what has been stated above also must be said for all the Supplemental Safety Measures and Alternative Safety Measures offered in the Appendices. No system, regardless of how much engineering goes into it, will provide a level of safety equivalent to a locomotive horn if the system is unreliable or inoperative. The integrity of a SSM must be checked frequently. Designs that have frequent failure rates or ones that are easily defeated must be supplemented with increased law enforcement, to bring a high level of protection to the public and to locomotive crews.

While BLE will address the specifics of each of the proposed SSMs as we learn more about them, there is one specific SSM about which we wish to comment preliminarily. The discussion of enforcement by photographic surveillance did not mention locomotive-mounted cameras. BLE is not aware of any intended use of such equipment for photographic surveillance. However, we wish to caution that any such evidence-gathering device is likely to become a target for vandals. Placing it on the locomotive could endanger both property and locomotive crew members; accordingly, BLE would oppose the use of locomotive-mounted photographic surveillance equipment.

Appendix B -- Alternative Safety Measures

Wayside horns

Several issues, in addition to those discussed in the comment above, are involved with utilization of wayside horns that are activated by an approaching train. A key safety feature of the locomotive horn is the fact that the Doppler effect of the horn's sound indicates the direction of the train's approach. This element is absent in the wayside horn. Another concern is the possible diminution of the wayside horn's effectiveness over time. We know that many motorists ignore signs, bells and lights, and go around gates for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is a presumed familiarity on the motorist's part with the time between the beginning of these signals and the actual arrival of a train. Will the wayside horns come to be viewed over time in this same way by such motorists? Will these motorists come to ignore this safety device, too? Wayside horns also introduce the added problem of always having a noise impact in the vicinity of the crossing. Finally, the issue of false activation of the wayside horn should be addressed before consideration is given to using them.

Supplemental comments

Positive Train Control

The use of the term "positive train control" (PTC) was introduced during the discussion of "whistle boards." It would appear that this terminology is being used in a broad context for any automatic train horn activation or signaling to the locomotive engineer. According to FRA, the PTC "should ensure that the horn is sounded not less than 20, nor more than 24 seconds before the locomotive enters the grade crossing." BLE cautions that PTC and its associated application for crossing protection are not yet defined. There are a number of concepts and some products that have emerged, but the cost and the associated communication and locomotive interfaces have not been determined.

PTC may hold promise in terms of crossing protection, train prediction, horn activation or crossing integrity at some point in the future, but it should not be included on the list of supplemental safety measures until PTC is well-defined, thoroughly tested and has been deployed. When PTC is deployed it is imperative that we recognize the nature of the open railroad environment and the need for manual horn operation, regardless of technological development at the wayside or on-board the locomotive.

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

Instances of trauma and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder experienced by train crew members involved in highway-rail incidents are likely to increase significantly if supplemental and alternative safety measures fail to perform as expected. Locomotive Engineers have little, if any, control over the behavior of trespassers and motorists and, similarly, a very slight chance of avoiding a collision by bringing a train to a stop. This sense of helplessness will increase if ASMs fail to produce the intended results.

BLE reserves the right to amend our comments as we gain a more thorough understanding of the rule, and as various supplemental safety measures and alternative safety measures are developed, studied and tested.


2000 Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers