Train Horn

Every three hours, someone in the U.S. is struck by a train. Train horns can save lives. Our locomotive engineers have the responsibility and the discretion to sound the horn at specified times, or when a safety hazard is perceived.

Why do trains sound their horn?

Federal law requires the train crew when approaching a road crossing to sound the horn at all public crossings for the protection and safety of motorists and pedestrians regardless of whether crossings with gates and lights are present. Only crossings that have met Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) criteria for a Quiet Zone do not require the horn to be sounded.

A train may also sound its horn when:

  • a vehicle, person or animal is on or near the track and the crew determines it is appropriate to provide warning.

  • track or construction workers are within 25 feet of a live track, or in other emergency cases.

    The federal rule governing whistle use requires train horns to blow at a sound level between 96-110 decibels. A train crew can be fined by the FRA for not sounding the horn adequately. BNSF management and the FRA spot check train crews for compliance with the horn rule.

Quiet Zones

Communities who wish to reduce the amount of train horns in their area may apply for a quiet zone. A quiet zone is a stretch of track where the railroad is not required to automatically sound the horn at each crossing except in emergencies or for track maintenance or construction work within 25 feet of live track.

Only the FRA can grant a quiet zone. The process starts with community leaders. Community leaders who have questions about BNSF's role in the quiet zone process can e-mail French Thompson, BNSF's director, Public Projects.

You can also find information in the BNSF Public Projects Manual.

Other Ways to Reduce Train Horns

Communities  also can reduce train horns by:

  • Closing unnecessary crossings
  • Building overpasses or underpasses

BNSF has programs to work with communities who would like to close crossings and reduce potential risk to the public at that crossing. BNSF also works with Operation Lifesaver to educate the public on safety around trains. More information on these efforts can be found at

For a comprehensive look at the federally mandated train horn regulations, visit the Federal Railroad Administration site.