Why Do Trains Honk So Much? (7 Reasons Why)

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Bruce Coleman

Bruce Coleman is a diesel mechanic and car tester with 20 years of experience. He's a member of various vintage car clubs, and he loves restoring old motorbikes.

It’s hard not to notice that trains honk quite often considering their horns are loud and often startle those within hearing distance.

There are several reasons trains honk and disrupt quiet areas, even if it doesn’t seem like they have a legitimate reason for honking. Here is what I discovered!

7 Reasons Trains Honk

1. Moving Trains

Whether trains are coming to the station or are already stopped, they must honk before moving and alert those of a moving or incoming train so those at the station can be aware.

While honking can help people not miss the train and make sure they can prepare to board or depart, honking also allows time for anyone to move away from the tracks to keep everyone safe.

Without making people aware of moving trains, the workers risk harm or death to those around the station who aren’t aware of how close they may be to the tracks.

2. Communication

To do everything necessary for a train to work effectively there has to be a substantial-sized crew that does everything from driving to brakes and working with passengers.

Since trains are usually so long and there are so many crew members, it’s common for the engineer to communicate with certain crew members using honks and whistles.

More specifically, if a train is moving into an area where the brakes need to be applied, the train will honk to alert the crew that the brakes need to be applied.

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3. Passing Trains

When a train passes another train, moving or stationary, the train must honk to alert and take notice of the other train.

Failure to honk when passing another train can result in a fine from the Federal Railroad Administration.

This honk is mainly to alert the other crew that you have seen their train and you are slowing down to exercise caution and care while passing. This keeps everyone safe and aware.

4. Railroad Crossings

Railroad Crossings

There are two types of railroad crossings, ones with barriers and ones without. If you come to a railroad crossing and a train is coming, no matter if there is a barrier or not, the train will honk.

Usually, at the crossings with no barriers, the trains will honk twice and at the crossings with barriers, they will honk once. This is simply to ensure the cars are aware a train is coming.

Unfortunately, many cars believe they can go around the barriers or cross the tracks and beat a train across so they don’t have to wait for it to pass, however, they are usually wrong.

These special honks help cars to hear that trains are coming and let them know they need to stop. This helps trains to know they’ve done what they can to clear the tracks and keep others safe.

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5. Clearing The Tracks

It’s quite common for animals or people to hang out on train tracks, even though it’s extremely dangerous and illegal in most places.

Trains will honk every so often, even if there is no crossing, to ensure anyone or anything on the tracks hears the train coming and moves away from the tracks.

While this isn’t entirely foolproof, it does give warning to humans and animals and honking like this has saved many lives.

6. Railroad Workers and Equipment

When approaching railway workers and their equipment, trains are required by law to honk to alert everyone of the presence of the train.

This also alerts the crew of any upcoming stops or delays in travel due to railway work. It’s a simple way to keep everyone informed and safe no matter what the situation.

Trains may even start honking a mile or two before railway work can even be seen to alert upcoming workers so they are prepared for the train.

Honking helps with travel times and preparedness for anything the railway workers may need to do before the train arrives.

7. Going In Reverse

It’s not entirely uncommon for trains to reverse, but it’s not the most common thing either. Therefore, whenever a train goes in reverse, the train must honk.

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Most people don’t think about trains moving backward so if it happens without the train honking to alert others, there is a huge chance of injury or death for anyone behind the train.

No matter where the train is, or who is around the train, the train must honk to alert everyone it is moving backward.

To know more, you can also read our posts on why a plane would nosedive, why copper is a good conductor, and why Vespel is so expensive.

Final Thoughts

It’s not uncommon for people to be irritated or frustrated at the frequency of trains honking and whistling, however, trains are doing this for the safety of others, not to frustrate people.

Whether trains are honking to alert cars, humans, and animals or they are trying to communicate with the crew, it keeps everyone safe and aware of the dangers of an oncoming train.


  • Bruce Coleman

    Bruce Coleman is a diesel mechanic and car tester with 20 years of experience. He's a member of various vintage car clubs, and he loves restoring old motorbikes.

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