Public Comment

Commentary: Railroad Horns, Invitations to Suicide

By Earl Williamson
Thursday September 17, 2009 - 09:49:00 AM

This evening, Sept. 10, the railroad horns are unusually loud. This nuisance increases often when cold foggy air comes into the bay through the Golden Gate, moving underneath the warm summer air. Since the speed of sound is proportional to the absolute temperature, the upper warm air conducts the sound faster than the cold air near the surface. Thus the sound that would have dispersed upwards bends downward toward the surface focusing the sound like an acoustical lens. This amplifies the railroad horn sound pollution sound in our hill areas. On hot days, we can tell when the cool ocean air is coming in by its sound. 

I can understand that the railroad companies and the various civil agencies continue this abuse and contempt for those who live on the flats near the railroad noise pollution but when this sound pollution bothers us hill folks, they’ve gone too far. The authorities may ignore the pleas and complaints from the poor folks who live nearest the tracks on the flats, but they had better wake up to more serious adversaries. 

This sound pollution causes considerable harm to all who are exposed to it. Surely some babies and children are disturbed and distressed. Some insomniacs, especially the elders, suffer being awakened many times during the night and are disturbed during the day. Furthermore, some adults, wakened by these horns, probably tend to increasing the birthrate in our overcrowded world. 

Presumably the horns are necessary to clear the tracks and prevent “accidents.” However, if the public relations agencies would objectively and scientifically investigate, they would probably disclose that the accidents that do occur, are actually suicides. Though most people are adequately warned away from the advancing trains by the roar of the engines, the bright lights, and the gates, some distressed citizens are driven to suicide. Noise polluting horns are redundant and unnecessary, they are cruel and unkind. 

    But to those sad citizens prone to suicide, the drama of these powerful machines provides an enticement comparable to our Golden Gate Bridge, but closer and quicker. Worse yet, these irregular and incessant train horns not only invite but even enduce those so distressed to take that tragic course. 

    Solutions abound. Either change or ignore the horn warning regulations, or implement them with less malice. Anger therapy for the trainmen is recommended, but deeper therapy is inappropriate because disclosing what people are really doing, such as enticing suicides, is unnecessarily distressing. 

    Unfortunately, given the compulsions of our institutions and the underlying conflict between railroad and citizens, a more acceptable solution might be for the railroad corporations to engage a team of attorneys to jog before trains, an activity they often indulge for their better health. The lawyers could provide the suicidals an affidavit absolving the firms and the local governments from liability for their demise. In the unlikely event that these sad people refuse to sign, the attorneys could simply phone the train to wait for further discussion and resolution. 

    Quo usque tandem abutare patientia nostra?!