I used to be one of those people, until I moved into an apartment that is approximately 100 feet from a "grade crossing," or crossing at street level.
Now, every night between 12 and 4 a.m., a train rolls by and blasts its horn at a bone-rattling 100 dB. While working on a news story for the Brighton Blade about train "quiet zones" I discovered that the trains blow their horns in certain patterns, which mean different things. In the loose constraints of the blogosphere, I figure this information fits into the translation motif, and so here is a brief posting about the strange language of trains....
Below is a list of the common signals. The main one we hear at night is the long-long-short-long ( = = o = ) signal, indicating the train is within a 1/4 mile of the crossing. Some engineers take liberties with this signal, and I can now identify the different drivers, based on their interpretation of the signal.
For instance, Mr. Longhorn makes all of his signals really long, so it just drags on forever. Shortround gives two shortish longs, then a really short short burst, but then he lays on the final long for like 10 seconds.
Anyway, here is a list of the now-de-mystified, secret language of trains. (Courtesy of the Union Pacific Web site)
= means long
o means short
of short sounds
|"Look out you fools" |
An attempt to get people or cows to look up and get the
heck off the train tracks.
Hitting the air brakes while train is stopped.
|= =||"Leaving Dodge" |
AKA: woo-woo sound. Train releases brakes and proceeds.
|o o||"OK whatever" |
Acknowledgment of any signal not otherwise provided for.
|o o o ||"Backing the thing up" |
Train is backing up, or acknowledging hand signal to back up.
|o o o o||"Huh?" |
A request for a signal to be given or repeated if not understood.
|= o o o||"Watch my back" |
Instruction for flagman to protect rear of train.
|= = = =||"Come back!" |
The flagman may return from west or south.
|= = = = =||"Come baaack!" |
The flagman may return from east or north.
|= = o =|| |
"Wake up, Ben and Michala!!"
|o =||"Crap, no brakes!" |
Inspect the brake system for leaks or sticking brakes.
|= o|| |
"Coming through! Quiet zone be damned!"