When that lonesome whistle blows…

Published 7:31 pm Tuesday, August 28, 2007

You are driving along Highway 11 and you hear that lonesome whistle blow. Do you ever wonder what it means? Can you hear the two long, a short and then a long signal?

Back in the days of steam engines, the locomotive horn was known as a steam trumpet. Every blow means something and it is akin to Morse code, although much simpler. The language comes in a series of long and short toots. Locomotive engineers the world over utilize their train’s whistle to warn and advise pedestrians, drivers and other engineers what their own train is doing. No amount of coaxing can make an engineer blow the horn just for fun.

After some train collision calamities in the 1880s and 1890s, communication between trains became essential. Steam trumpets became the telephone of the railways.

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Quick and easy guide to learning train whistle language. Here’s some definitions of what they mean:

(. means a short toot – means a long toot)

— Release brakes. Proceed.

. Apply brakes. Stop.

–. Approaching meeting points or waiting points of trains.

– Approaching Station.

-. Warning, visibility obscured

–.- Approaching public grade crossing. Used for alarm for people or livestock on the track.

… When train is standing, back up. If train is moving, stop at next station.

–. Approaching meeting, or waiting point.

.. Answer to any signal not otherwise provided for. A series of short toots (any number close together) means livestock is on the tracks.

Next time you see the train coming toward Picayune, listen for the two longs, a short and a long.

On the net: http://www.heavenr.com/railroad/whistle.html