Train drivers to tone down lonesome whistles under Federal regulations

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The Independent US

One of America's most evocative and romantic sounds is about to get a little less romantic. But millions of suburbanites tormented by wailing train whistles will not mind a bit.

Under new rules set by the Federal Railroad Administration, limits will be put on the noise volume of a whistle, and locomotive drivers will have to be more than 20 seconds from a level crossing when they sound it.

The moaning whistle of a freight train at night as it snakes across vast, open spaces is a trademark sound of the US, inspiring countless blues and country singers. "All I do is sit and cry/As the evenin' train goes by/I heard that lonesome whistle blow", runs the Hank Williams classic "Lonesome Whistle" about a prisoner in his cell who yearns for freedom.

The new regulations are designed to balance quality of life and safety. Some 400 people are killed at level crossings each year in the United States.

And as suburban sprawl engulfs once-rural areas, more than 9 million Americans now live close to one of the country's 150,000 level crossings, and suffer sleep disruption. But although that whistle may soon be quieter it will still have to be loud enough to be heard in a car with its windows up and the air-conditioning on.