LC17 Investigating the use of train horns at rail level crossings

Evidence of the effectiveness of train horns as a device for warning level crossing users appears to be sparse. Recent changes in the road and rail environment (traffic volume, noise) and in road user distraction (pedestrians/cyclists with headsets, motorists in soundproofed vehicles) there are questions about whether train horns are as beneficial as they once were. This research was a first step in investigating the efficacy of train horn as a warning device. Train horn practices at railway level crossings in Australia were studied through field observations and focus groups with train drivers.  The investigation considered both active and passive level crossings, as well as the geographical context (urban, rural) and types of level crossing users (motorists, pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists).

Key Findings

  • Train horns are not always used when a train approaches a crossing, particularly a passive crossing
  • Train horns are often insufficiently loud at crossings with bells
  • Train horn practises have large variability depending on the State, railway operator, crossing, and individual train drivers
  • Train drivers had a tendency to attribute human characteristics or behaviours to both train horns and level crossings in a way that treated them as more than objects, tools, or pieces of machinery. Future changes to any of these elements need to be approached with care as they are likely to change the behaviour of the whole system
  • Use of train horns was very individualistic, discretionary, and influenced by driver experience as well as other concerns, such as noise pollution

Funding / Grants

  • Australasian Centre for Rail Innovation (2017 - 2020)