18 Apr 2024

Rail risks and rewards

Train warning horns are often used at level crossings to let people know when a train is coming. However, the sound of the alarms has led to claims of noise pollution and disturbance to residents who live near the railway sites.

Researchers examined the horns in a bid to discover if they helped to improve safety and how the benefits compared to any disadvantages. They found that the negatives were outweighed by the positive impacts of the warning sounds and any plans to reduce or remove them could face resistance from both road users and the rail industry.

The study, published in the journal Ergonomics, used focus groups to find out more about how the noises were perceived by road users including drivers, cyclists, scooter riders and pedestrians. Participants saw the train horn as helping to increase safety, particularly for more vulnerable road users and in rural areas. Although negative impacts such as noise pollution and hearing discomfort were also raised, overall the alarms were seen as a positive.

The study said: “The safety benefits of train horns at railway level crossings are not well researched, despite their negative effects on health. This focus group study investigated road users’ perceptions of the usefulness of train horns. It showed that reducing the use of train horns could face resistance from road users.”

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