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Mystery Solved: We’ve got answers to the loud train horn that kept Richmond awake

RICHMOND, Va. -- For more than 10 minutes it blared. A loud, sustained train horn pierced the silence that typically accompanies 2 a.m. on a Tuesday in Richmond.

"I hear trains all the time, but this is the first time anything like this has happened," Jake S., who lives near Richmond's Carytown community, said. "Never heard anyone lay on it."

Jake was up late, working past midnight, when he heard the train horn. He was initially surprised it lasted so long. That surprise soon turned into worry.

"I just watched Chernobyl on HBO and they [the Soviet workers] didn't have an outlet to alert the public [about the nuclear meltdown]," Jake said. "How does CSX inform us if there's a toxic spill?"

Worried about the meaning of the train horns, Jake posted concerns on the Nextdoor app and called Richmond's non-emergency number. He also tried to reach out to CSX to ask questions, but was not able to reach someone in the overnight hours.

The CBS 6 Problem Solvers were able to reach someone at CSX who said she would investigate the late-night horn.

"The horn noise was the result of a train horn valve that was malfunctioning and has been fixed so that it is now operating properly," the spokesperson replied the next day. "We apologize for the disturbance that this may have caused to residents in the community."

The spokesperson said should an emergency occur on the tracks, CSX notifies local police.

Quiet Zones

While the Federal Railroad Administration has designated some areas as "quiet zones," that does not mean train horns will never blow.

"Engineers still maintain discretion to blow the horn in quiet zones if a person or vehicle is near the tracks," the spokesperson said. "CSX crews blow train horns for two reasons: it saves lives, and it’s required by law. Federal law mandates that freight train horns be sounded at crossings to alert motorists and pedestrians of approaching trains, which can take up to a mile or more to stop."

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has other requirements directing when, where, how long and at what volume a train must sound its horn at designated locations, regardless of the time of day. Train engineers also use their discretion to blow the horn in operational situations when they believe public safety will be enhanced by increasing awareness of an approaching train, such as when a person or vehicle is on or near the tracks. The safety of our employees and community members is our top priority, and we thank our neighbors for understanding CSX’s commitment to put safety first.”

Train Horn Rule dictate engineers must sound the horn at least 15 seconds, and no more than 20 seconds, in advance of all public grade crossings, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

"Train horns must be sounded in a standardized pattern of 2 long, 1 short and 1 long blasts," according to the FRA's website. "The pattern must be repeated or prolonged until the lead locomotive or lead cab car occupies the grade crossing. The rule does not stipulate the durations of long and short blasts."

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