Train Horn Protests


Mt Albert residents who live near the Baldwin Avenue station has started an Auckland-wide campaign against train horns.

They have launched a petition saying the train horns are annoying and disruptive especially when the first commuter trains roll past well as early as 430am, disturbing young sleeping children.

But their complaint is not just about the early morning trains - they say babies or young children may be sleeping during the day.

The residents have complained to the official channels including creating a protest petition in 2007 containing names and signatures from 72 residents but the transport minister at the time ignored it.

The organisers say most government and local politicians they have spoken to think it affects only a very small number of people so they’re wanting to prove it with an Auckland-wide petition.

Train approaching Baldwin Ave area sounds its horn

The present horn system is activated when trains near level crossings, especially as not all trains stop at the closest stations.

The campaigners insist that in Auckland the train horns are being used for two reasons which they define as :

  • To generally warn of an approaching train near crossings, despite all of these being fitted with bells, flashing lights and barrier arms to stop road vehicles.
  • To activate signals which also activate barrier arms at road crossings.

The campaign claims this horn activated signalling system “is fairly unique to the Western Line and is outdated having been in use for several decades. It can be replaced by other more modern unobtrusive means.”

They demand “the rail system be improved to the standard it is in most West European Countries where train horns are only sounded in emergencies.

The system will be upgraded as part of the electrification signalling upgrade over the next 18 months.

Petition is here




  1. Geoff says:

    They have already been told the horn system is being replaced next year! Why campaign for something to be replaced after they have been told it is being replaced?

    Good ‘ol NIMBY’s - move next to the railway, then complain.

  2. James B says:

    I moved next to a railway and don’t care at all. Sure it gets noisy sometime but you soon get to used to it. Besides it beats living on a main road any day.

  3. DanC says:

    I back on to a railway track here in London between Putney and Barnes. It means I am close to transport & can also have outside parties as noise doesn’t matter. Double glazed windows knock the sound out completely when sleeping. As for the horns well they are being replaced so that’s all good. ( I remember them well when living in Balmoral)

  4. Bryan says:

    If they don’t like the horns,then shift.It was their choice to live there.The trains have been there for many years,and if people dont look for trains and get skittled thats their fault.
    They are lucky the drivers dont sound their engine horns like they do in North America.

  5. rtc says:

    What a waste of time when the horns will be replaced next year - what more do they want?

  6. Scott says:

    The trains seem to sound there horns when leaving Grafton station, I don’t mind it as i live about 200m away but don’t get the reason… no level crossings around there. Who are they trying to protect? or is it just rail convention as it is for ferry’s and ships to give a horn blast when departing?

  7. Kurt says:

    How dare train drivers warn people at crossings they are approaching. How inconsiderate to the well to do’s around this special place. I assume these whinging residents think death is a better alternative to disturbing their self centred lives. And the signal horn sounding must only occur half a dozen times a day anyway mostly in daylight hours.

    This line has been there for the 20th century at least, so suck it up and get over it. I hope these residents walk everywhere as their cars will emit noise as well which may disturb squirrels in their leafy little suburbs.

  8. Chris R says:

    You have to admit that the little “toot” given to acknowledge the guards rightaway isn’t necessary though.

    The acknowledgement can be given by opening the throttle.

  9. Matt L says:

    These people are idiots of the highest order. They moved next to an active train line that has been there for at least 80 years. They should have no right to complain about the noise. Especially seeing as it has already been announced that it is going to be upgraded. I hope I see them so I can tell them how stupid they are.

    My understanding is that this horn is to activate the level crossing at Woodward Ave. The best solution all round would be for the level crossing to be bridged over anyway as it is only going to be closed more often as more trains come on board.

  10. Jon C says:

    They were testing the PA system at the new Avondale station y’day. It was very loud. It needs to be to be heard on both sides of the tracks.
    I can imagine the nearby locals trying to ban the constant announcements!
    When will people realise having a train system brings some noise but in the big picture it has so many benefits.
    And how will the petitioners feel when there is a death at a level crossing like Baldwin because the horn wasn’t blown on a foggy wet 430am winter morning when a pedestrian or motorist couldnt see?

  11. Richard says:

    Scott’s comparison with shipping is misleading. A vessel has to give warning to other shipping they are moving and the signals are set down by the international maritime rules of the sea.

    From Sea Cadet days I recall but stand to be corrected:-

    A long blast is a warning
    One short, proceeding to starboard
    Two short, proceeding to port
    Three short my engines are proceeding astern
    Four short my engines are proceeding ahead………and so on

  12. Scott says:

    Ferry seem to give one short horn blast when departing (even if in reverse etc, which would require 3 blasts by international maritime convention). Are the short train blasts when trains leave stations to:
    - Warn people to get off the tracks ahead of the train
    - Advise passengers that are near but not within sight of the station that they have missed the train?

    I can’t think of any other reasons apart from that the train drivers like using the horn…

  13. Carl says:

    Sounds like they should just buy double glazing.

  14. Ivan says:

    having lived next to the tracks, I would say most drivers are fairly considerate, only making a short horn while passing through crossings, and hardly noticible in sleep (well, if the midnight freight train couldn’t wake you up, nothing will)

    suppose the partition is targeted at a few who take pleasure at ruining everyone’s sleep. there were instances which the toot lasts 2 seconds which are very distrubing.

  15. Mike says:

    Just to clarify to some of the posters who obviously cannot comprehend the actual issues.

    The railway corridor was estabished and so were the residential sections.I would suggest that most these sections adjoing the corridor have been in place for well over 80 years. In fact prior to 5 years ago it was a quiet place to live.

    In the past 4 years the growth in the number trains has become significant including trains on Sundays and early,late trains.

    To all the posters who complain at the local residents you do have a point that living next to a rail corridor / Station there will be noise however you do have to look at this in context. The train driver who blasts the horn at the station at 5.30am when nobody is on the platform ? The loudspeakers on some of the platforms that can be heard for hundreds of metres ? etc.

    As the final sentence in the article states

    “the rail system be improved to the standard it is in most West European Countries where train horns are only sounded in emergencies.”

    It really comes down to the people running the Auckland rail system - they just don’t care. There attitude like some of the posters is that its the residents fault for living next to the rail.

  16. Joshua says:

    Mike - First of all, I will guarantee you that every complaining resident moved moved in with the train line there, so yes services are bound to improve and if they seriously could not contemplate that fact there is seriously something wrong with their thinking. Also sounding the horn is a current safety factor, and as with any industry safety should be taken more seriously than some kind of inconvenience, and as what was mentioned before they have said they are fixing it next year and processes are already being put in place, so as already mentioned on this blog why protest for something that is already happening and cannot logistically be speed up?

    But I’m sorry if my attitude is it’s their fault for living next to a rail line, cause they actually did buy a house by a rail line, the rail line was not put there afterwards, and I will happily take that back if someone had put a gun to their heads and demanded them to buy that property, I’m sorry but that will be the only way it’s not their fault.

  17. Matt L says:

    Mike - It is their fault for moving next to a railway line, no one forced them to do that. When buying a house one of the things you need to think about is what could happen in the area. The fact that a railway line is already established means that should be taken into the equation as there is always a possibility that the number of passing trains will increase.

    Also at the moment its not about people not caring but that these services are needed to move people around the city and currently there is a safety reason for having to use the horn. The thing that really annoys me is that Kiwirail have already said they are upgrading it which means the protest is a very pointless and just wastes people time.

  18. Mike says:

    Jon C

    Your comments ealier

    “They were testing the PA system at the new Avondale station y’day. It was very loud. It needs to be to be heard on both sides of the tracks”.

    Would it not be better to have 2 loudspeakers one on one platform one on the other with the volume turned down ?
    Or a electronic board ?


    “I can imagine the nearby locals trying to ban the constant announcements!”

    TOO RIGHT. And it will happen.

    Why should local residents put up with a 3rd world solution. (please don’t answer - because the train track has been there for years again everybody)

  19. Matt L says:

    On the announcements, most of them that I hear when waiting at a station are that about delayed trains. I think this should improve after this weekend when the double tracking has finished at New Lynn as that will improve the reliability of the services out west.

    Also looking further ahead the signals and points are also being upgraded over the next year or two so that will further reduce the delays as well as remove the need to use the horn after Baldwin Ave. Finally in 2013 we get new trains (which being electric will also be quieter than what we currently have).

    All of this means we will have less delays, modern signaling and quieter trains which should make life much better for neighbors of the train lines.

  20. Jon C says:

    @Mike The loudspeaker issue is an issue throughout the network.
    Loud announcements must drive locals mad and they have every right to complain.
    The answer there is to have real time information boards - something on its way.
    Lets hope it arrives before train timetables get extended.
    PS Mike make your points as strongly as you wish but please DON’T SHOUT!
    Shouting on a forum is as annoying as the sound of train horns at 530am.

  21. Ian W says:

    Don’t count on electric trains being any quieter than the diesels we have now. Go to Brisbane and have a listen to there trains in a station, or go to Hamilton when there is a EF electric locomotive waiting on the platform. That is deafening even when they are not moving.

  22. Joshua says:

    Mike - The point of the matter is do the locals have the right? The answer is they can complain however action does not need to be taken as they were aware they are living, and brought into living by a rail line. There are advantages and disadvantages to wherever you live, you just have to deal with the disadvantages.

    I personally think the locals should consider themselves very lucky that Kiwi-rail is going to these lengths to improve the situation for them, with the amount of money that is invested into these companies, with such little to no return us tax-payers are forking out to make them more comfortable, I personally would like my money going into something more productive or meaningful, giving to someone who really needs it or to actually improving the reliability and frequencies of the network. Sorry but your Argument is a complete fail on one fact, they brought into it.

  23. Matt L says:

    Joshua - Just one point, improving the signals isn’t about making things better for the locals but about making things better for the trains (and therefore the people who use them). They have to be upgraded anyway for electrification and to allow for higher frequencies and reliability so the fact it will remove this irritant for locals is just a positive side effect.

  24. Paul says:

    Simple, remove the level crossings, (simple but costly). There does seem to be a large number of them, surely some of the roadss could be closed without an over/under bridge

  25. William M says:

    I live by a level crossing. I live on the North Island Main Trunk, in Takanini. Not only do I put up with the daily suburban movements, but the metroport movements, and the odd work train. Mike clearly sounds like one of the original proponents of the original petition. I value his passion, but unfortunately, it sounds like he needs to come and stay out in Papakura, where the frequency of suburban and freight traffic is almost twice, or maybe even three times that of the North Auckland Line west of Newmarket. The horn is a safety device used not only when approaching a level crossing, but if applicable, approaching a station, curve, or points where the view is obscured, approaching the entrance and exits of tunnels. These are some of the standard circumstances where a horn is used across the world, especially in the United States. I gather Mike has done some reading?

  26. Mike says:


    No I am not one of the original proponents of the petition. I do not live anywhere near a railway crossing however I do live near a station on the Southern line and so can relate to the noise problem.
    I have however made complaints about the loudspeaker on the platform due to its excessive loudness. After about 6 months this was turned down and everybody is now happy. So unlike Joshua’s position that all residents should just put up with it I decided to do something about it I complained and got a suitable outcome.Took awhile but.
    This in conjunction with the horn being blasted at the station at 5.30am to 12.30am (to be 10 minute intervals both directions in the future) was just getting to much.
    Now jumping back to the train horns and you mention America, yes they are mandated to sound the horn unless they are in a Quiet Zone. A Quiet zone is established by the local areas and the crossings have to be to a certain safety standard,however I’m not sure about the departing trains and the use of the horn in the US in a Quiet zone. I also believe there are large parts of the world within the residential zones where they have the same Quiet zones and hours of use of the horn (except for emergencies).
    My understanding of the complaint about the horns in Auckland residential suburbs are relating only to the very early and late trains ie normal sleeping hours in a residential area ? I’m hoping it includes the stations.
    People should also realise the local residents are the eyes and ears of the railway corridor. So many times my neighbors and I have stopped vandalism at our station so its a two way street. ie good neighborly relations.
    As mention I had a suitable outcome with the loudspeaker so I’m happy. I’m just hoping the horn can be banned until say 7am and after say 11pm.

  27. Linz says:

    Excellent argument here!

    One point not mentioned is that the local authorities are trying to encourage higher density housing along the rail corridors to support the investment in the rapid transit network. This is one of the rationales for electrifying the lines, thus reducing the noise and making it more appealing for people to live near the tracks.

    True the tracks were there first - but if we want to encourage intensive development along the corridors we need to ensure that that enthusiastic driver, Horatio Hornblower, who seems to work the early shift through Newmarket, can use his discretion to drift through the crossings without necessarily having to wake the dead.

  28. Stan says:

    I have lived near the railway since 1984 and the horns have got more annoying since 2006 because they are used far more and trains start earlier . Its all very well saying why don’t you move or the railway was there first but there are a lot of us neighbours who don’t like the horns and its unfair for any organisation to compromise vast areas of land simply because it was there first. Auckland is a growing city with growing demands placed on it with land getting more scarce and valuable, so everyone has a responsibility to be a good neighbour. You could equally say why should the public transport system be improved in areas where it is limited after all the people chose to live there knowing this, public transport is definately not self funding.

    I’ve read the blogs above and a surprising number of people seem to think that the horns are being replaced. Nothing doing. The article that appeared in the Central Leader, Western Leader and Harbour News where this notion may have originated from stated that the horn activated signalling system is scheduled for replacement in a 12 to 18 months. The horns will still be sounded to warn of approaching trains at the discretion of the driver. The crossings already have bells and barrier arms and the train is well lit at night so how much warning do people need! These are the very safety measures required in the USA to qualify the area as a “Quiet Zone”.

    The UK has a curfew on horns from 10:30pm to 7:00am despite uncontrolled pedestrian crossings i.e. no lights or bells.

    Netherlands have controlled rail crossings and trains don’t sound horns.

    In most West European countries trains don’t sound horns. West Germany goes further placing noise restrictions in locomotives and carriges which are regularly monitored.

    With the few billion dollars spent on upgrading railways for efficency its time us neighbours got a fair deal as not a single dollar has been spent on mitigating nuisence from train horns, there are alternative safety measures.

  29. Stan says:

    Incidently the “Ban Tarin Horn” petition is for anyone in the Auckland area who finds the horns annoying which I can immagine will be a fair number of residents, it is not just for Mt Albert residents.

  30. Joshua says:

    Stan I think you need to take a good hard look at what your saying - Its all very well saying why don’t you move or the railway was there first but there are a lot of us neighbours who don’t like the horns and its unfair for any organisation to compromise vast areas of land simply because it was there first.

    From what you are saying is that you are complaining because you were negligent in your view of the corridor getting used more. From what you have said it sounds as if you moved into the area expecting rail to fail, now the numbers are rising you are packing a sad. Is this right?

    I’m sorry for being so blunt, and maybe it’s because of my interest in property development. It really does annoy me however when people move into an area where there is a stadium, speedway or train system and then complain about noise, getting limitation on the use of these venues when they have been around before the residents, I can understand if the stadium/train station or whatever was the one that moved in but this is not the case here or in most circumstances. So then it’s the bad decisions of a few people who ruin it for everyone else, why should we sacrifice safety for some selfish people who want benefits without taking on board the disadvantages. Why should we take the operators or company rights away from them? Sometimes this PC Bullsh*t just goes way to far.

    - With the few billion dollars spent on upgrading railways for efficency its time us neighbours got a fair deal as not a single dollar has been spent on mitigating nuisence from train horns, there are alternative safety measures,

    Then maybe the neighbours should chip in and spend the money themselves, or are they expecting us to pay it for them, why should I have my money go for someone who move into an area they didn’t want to, I cant help that they make stupid decisions. Ok also indicate and give us stats of those alternitive messures so we can see how to make the rail system safer, I’m sure the rail athorities would be interested to learn. Oh and add in the cost we taxpayers will be forking out for it.

  31. Stan says:

    Joshua I don’t mind you being blunt but I can’t let your comment stand unchallenged. If we look at other examples of public nuisence like sewage treatment plants, yes we have 2 very large ones in Auckland one in Mangere and the second largest is in North Shore but you woukd hardly know it these days. I have worked in both at diffeent times and I know how attitudes to residents complaining about smell have changed over the years, that change being encouraged by the Resource Management Act 1991. I don’t know what the standards for Mangere are but I can certainly tell you that there is an objectional odour standard the North Shore plant has to meet, monitored at its boundary. Consequently both plants now use state of the art treatment processes which have high energy usage and cost associated with them, this was essential to eliminate most of the odour previously produced. Our water and waste water charges reflect this increased cost which I don’t mind paying because I think those carrying out such activities need to be mindful of neighbours.

    If you are interested in property development you will realise that to avoid developing slums the city needs to have a plesant environment! If you have taken the traain to the city you will have also noticed the property development along the rail corridor, at lot of appartments are now adjacent to the railway, some are in quite expensive areas and some not, the latter are cheaply built with no consideration to noise control, qiute frankly I don’t know how developers get away with it. But I’ve heard from people even in the more expensive areas that find the horns annoying.

    I noted you didn’t respond to my comparison with improving public transport for those who “choose” to live in an area where it is limited, could it be because propety developers are among those who put pressure on local authorities to improve services there so they can develop more property? That’s entirely fair isn’t it?

    Rail services can be and in many countries are run with minimal reliance on train horns! I guess you can take a bloody minded approach and say “sod the neighbourhood” but then you ruin the environment for those people and eventually things come back to haunt you when you find there is little desirable land left for people even on better than average incomes to live on. What happens if people want to extend the railway to the airport or North Shore? I for one will be objecting.

  32. Matt L says:

    Stan - The problem with your argument is that there are already plans to upgrade the signaling which will remove the need for much of the horn use. That upgrade is needed for electrification so will be finished in a year or two

  33. Mike says:


    Stan makes a good point - If Auckland rail will not consider compling with requirements as per other cities and towns around the world why would any resident want a new rail line near them.
    Suggest you google “train horn quiet zone” and see whats happening around the world. Hundreds of towns and cities are being made into quite zones in the US. Stan mentions other countries and there regulations. Most of the required features of quiet zones are in place now in Auckland ie the barriers and flashing lights so I would expect there is minimal costs.

    I also notice in the American examples generaly the rail opertaors are against this however its the local authorities that can override them and establish the quite zone.

    So my question to you Joshua is if other more advanced rail countries are doing this why is New Zealand not doing it ?. Specificaly why is Auckland different ?

    If your still worried about costs of implementing this maybe part of the $7 per passenger per trip public subsidy can pay for this. ie make the passengers pay more of the real cost of there trip.

  34. ingolfson says:

    Mike, did you read the last part of the actual blog post???

    “The system will be upgraded as part of the electrification signalling upgrade over the next 18 months.”

    One can argue that the locals are right in organising themselves so this change doesn’t get lost or cut when the electrification and signal upgrades happen. But your argument about “why is New Zealand not doing it?” sounds pretty hollow.

    “ie make the passengers pay more of the real cost of there trip.”

    When the motorway users thundering past my apartment building pay me for the damage they cause to my ears and respiratory system, I will consider the “real cost” of rail too, yes.

  35. Stan says:

    Matt and ingolfson, the signaling upgrade is only part of the problem. I’ve counted 8 horn blasts from i train over about a minute or so it took till it was out of earshot. Why was I counting? It makes a change from counting sheep trying to get back to sleep after already being woken by a horn from an earlier train.

    The horns are a relatively recent protocol adopted by rail operators since about 2006 to warn of their approach. One of the Veola staff said horn use would increase with electrification as the trains would be quieter!

  36. Matt L says:

    Stan - My understanding is the the horn blast between Baldwin Ave and Mt Albert is to activate the barriers at Woodward Ave, there is a sensor that picks up the noise and activates the barrier.

    This isn’t as much of a problem for trains that stop at Mt Albert as there is a button on the platform that the train manager pushes to activate the barriers but for express trains or trains not stop (i.e. the evening express train) they need the horn blast or else the driver has to stop the train at the level crossing to get out and manually activate it. Sometimes the sensor doesn’t pick it up (probably due to age). I think the drivers may be using the horn for longer to make sure the signal activates.

    I don’t know exactly how long the express trains have been in operation but it has been for a few years at least, probably 2006 when you noticed the horn being used more.

    As part of electrification all the signals need to be upgraded so they are immune from the AC power. Having a more modern signaling system should stop the need for the horn there.

  37. Stan says:

    Matt You are partially right, but if that was the only reason for the sounding the horn it would theoretically only be at 7:50 when the express goes through and onwards. The signals are set to automatic at night until 6:30am. The signals are horn activated after that time to minimise delays for motorists at crossings. I can usually tell when a horn is used for signal activation because it is sounded for a longer period, 1 to 2 seconds normally.

    The 8 repeated horn blasts I mentioned earlier were well over a kilometre of track that the train travelled, so at least 6 of them were well away from the activation sensor between Mt Albert and Baldwin Ave.

  38. Annie says:

    Ah good to hear you are getting a good blasting in Auckland(my home town). It’s obviously a ‘ train disease’, the horn noise is unbearable here in Brisbane, NEW loud trains, NEW safety policies, (all nonsense), keeping us awake NOW all day and all night. We get the same old people protecting the train noise, rail staff and people that have never lived hearing distance from the unbearable NEW rail noise. We all need some sense to prevail, way way too much needless noise pollution.

  39. Hana says:

    I would like to know what is happenening with the petition as I have signed it as well, but cannot see more info about it. The tooting is definitely worst that has been and I am not conviced that the new electrification will bring improvement regarding the tooting. Can anyone provide the update regarding the petition or the website to log on. Thanks


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