What Does The Train Say?

Chugga-chugga choo-choo! That of course is the infamous sounds of a train. We all know what trains sound like, but have you ever wondered the behind the scenes aspect of the train whistle?

Formerly referred to as a steam trumpet, it is an audible signaling device. It is a very vital role for any steam locomotive. It’s used to warn and communicate. In anything dealing with heavy machinery, communication is a key attribute and warnings are not a bad idea either.

An older train whistle can sound many of ways. It was functioned with what they called a pull cord, or at times a lever. Being controlled by a pull cord or lever gave the operator the ability to customize their whistle blow. It was said that many train conductors had their own style of whistle blowing, and you could often tell who was operating the train. Now days, the whistle is controlled by a pushbutton switch. That mechanism takes away the option of making the conductor’s own signature whistle.

So back to the importance of a train whistle, again it plays a very vital role. Trains are massive vehicles that generally have low friction for braking. At normal speeds it is still very hard to come to a stop. Even from a good distance, it is very necessary to have some form of warning of a train’s approach.

Not only is a train whistle used for an approach warning, there are many other meanings as well. These meanings can be labeled as “whistle codes”. There are short blows, long blows, and a combination of short and long. For instance, one long whistle, one long whistle is used when the train has stopped. The operator applies the air brakes and equalizes the pressure. Another example is two long blows of the steam trumpet. Two long blows mean that the train is releasing its brakes and is going to take off. More than meanings for stop and go, there’s also a whistle code for the operator to request a signal or for a signal to be repeated when not understood. The signal for that are four short whistles. It’s honestly quite fascinating how the whistle patterns are used as a means of communication between the conductor and rail workers. It’s like sign language for trains!

While the importance of a train whistle is undeniable, it does not mean that it can do no wrong. Well in terms of the loudness of the whistle, people who live nearby or around a train track can be quite annoyed. There have been complaints about the noise of the train disturbing the quality of life for the residents. I can see that being so, similar to people who live near airports. However, it is plain as day that the purpose for train whistles is gravely important and will be inevitably used for years to come.