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I get train noises in the north part of West Seattle, too. Nearest tracks are four miles away.

I wondered about it for a bit, too, but then just concluded that Seattle has some really loud fucking trains, and that's probably a good thing, because a quiet train could really fuck you up.

Posted by robotslave | December 8, 2006 12:40 AM

Amtrak or BNSF from down by the waterfront? You're barely a mile away; I could see hearing the horns if it's fairly quiet at night near you.

Posted by K | December 8, 2006 12:55 AM

Train horns are acoustically designed to carry over long distances. They characteristically have a cluster of several mid- to mid-low-pitched tones arranged in dissonant chords creating subsonic carrier waves that have a wavelength of a few miles.

Posted by david | December 8, 2006 1:19 AM

David: Wow, thanks for the info.

I too live in a place where I never hear trains during the day. But at night I hear them. I always assumed the busier traffic background noise during the day obscured a sound I would be hearing otherwise.

Posted by mirror | December 8, 2006 1:56 AM

Well, it's physics. (unfortunately for some people). Fog typically occurs in dense air, which results in less db loss per meter compared to a "less foggy" situation (effectively sounds appear louder in a humid climate) Also fog occurs with relatively little wind, so this adds to any perceived gain in relative volume of any horn or whatnot.

Posted by Ross | December 8, 2006 1:58 AM

How funny - I clicked to this page just as there was a train horn blowing (and I'm in SE Cap Hill too).

Posted by genevieve | December 8, 2006 2:07 AM

I am done in the SD around 24th and Jackson and I hear train horns at night. I always figured it was the trains from SODO. I am also pretty sure I have heard fog horns off the water when it is particularly foggy.

Posted by Giffy | December 8, 2006 4:06 AM

And consider that the train yard in Interbay/Magnolia exists in an amplifying bowl of topography. I'd guess that the sound could travel to the Hill via the Fremont Cut/Lake Union.

Posted by Lloyd Clydesdale | December 8, 2006 7:14 AM

Could it be one of the Christmas ships on Lake Union?

Many of the larger ships have horns very much like a train.

Posted by golob | December 8, 2006 7:35 AM

Doubt fog has much to do with it. Growing up in Denver 4 miles from the nearest tracks, I'd hear them summer nights. Sound either carries further at night, or the reduced traffic doesn't cover it anymore.

I now live about 1 mile from tracks, still hear them at night more than day.

Posted by Matt from Denver | December 8, 2006 7:51 AM

Capitol Hill folks do hear trains all the time. I assumed it was from the King Street Station...

Posted by trains | December 8, 2006 7:52 AM

I'm in Montlake, with a giant hill blocking downtown and the various train lines, and I still hear horns, quite clearly. Very lovely, because it's in the distance. My son loves trains, so it's kind of a plus.

I grew up in Eugene a few blocks from Southern Pacific's largest trainyard on the west coast, and would go to sleep at night hearing the trains say, "scrreeeeee....BAM!" as they coupled through the night. Yes, hot train love helped me go to sleep.

Posted by Glenn Fleishman | December 8, 2006 8:03 AM

I live on the east slope of Beacon Hill, and always hear them, both day and night. I don't remember hearing them when I lived on Capitol Hill, but that doesn't mean I didn't. :-)

I love hearing the trains. I grew up in the hills above the Union Pacific yards in Council Bluffs, Iowa, so trains horns remind me of home.

God knows I'm no scientist, but could cloud cover (as opposed to fog) play a roll in how the horns are heard around town?

Posted by catalina vel-duray | December 8, 2006 8:10 AM

I've been thinking about this a lot lately too - I'm on the East side of the hill and I hear them (at night) all the time. I considered the trains from downtown, but what about the Eastside? I know they run freight trains along the east side of lake washington, although I don't know exactly when.

Posted by Ari | December 8, 2006 8:52 AM

We hear them all the way down in Madison Park, right by the lake.

Posted by Tom Harpel | December 8, 2006 9:00 AM

I've been wondering about this for months; I live down past 23rd on Madison and couldn't for the life of me figure out where the train noises came from. So glad someone actually thought to, uh, ask about it.

Posted by Ursula | December 8, 2006 9:04 AM

Yes! I live right by Madison Market and I hear them at night too! It's totally spooky, and has sparked quite a few discussions with my friends. That seems like a really long way to be able to hear a train horn - from SoDo to Madison Market? Really? I think these are ghost trains, for sure.

Posted by Callie | December 8, 2006 9:04 AM

The same trains are being heard from my perch in Madrona.

Posted by Deacon Seattle | December 8, 2006 9:16 AM

i'm right above the interbay train yard and not to rain on your parade but they rarely sound their horns day or night because there are no street crossings in the area -- all traffic goes over head on bridges. i was actually surprised because moving in there i figured i'd hear trains all the time, but the only sound I hear are heavy thuds as train cars are coupled/decoupled and moved around.

Posted by charles | December 8, 2006 9:21 AM

I'm in Squire Park, and I love hearing that "lonesome whistle blow" late in the evening; reminds me of overnighting at my grandparents' house which was just across the street from BNRR tracks in Kelso.

Posted by COMTE | December 8, 2006 9:24 AM

One of the reassuring noises of the night. Used to hear them all the time in Madrona. Fog, one would think, might help carry the sound.

Posted by Ronald Holden | December 8, 2006 9:42 AM

I've heard them since I moved to Capitol Hill a year and a half ago. I seem to hear them less in the summer, so perhaps the fog does have an impact.

I used to live three miles away from the train tracks in San Jose and could hear train horns every night, with or without fog.

Posted by keshmeshi | December 8, 2006 9:59 AM

The trains can be heard, because there is less noise from other sources at night--less freeway, noise from your street, etc.

Also, the "switching" of cars in the yards in my neck of the woods are done after peak hours, and especially in the middle of the night, to mitigate the impact on steet traffic. Drayage to and from the rail yards and the port happen from 7 am to late night, and trying to switch and build cars while all that was going on would be the biggest nightmare for traffic (it would look like the viaduct was closed or somethin'). Strings of cars are built so they can go to Portland, Vancouver, and Chicago (via Everett) from the yards here. You can see them leaving at around 8 in the morning and again after 6pm.

And I've heard them all over town too. Fauntleroy, Cap Hill--but it's all coming from SODO and Georgetown, and we're at the bottom of the bowl, so many neighborhoods are line of sight from the source.

It is the ghost of what Seattle once was--a blue collar town.

Posted by georgetown stew | December 8, 2006 10:08 AM

Oh, and Interbay--the cars there are for the wheat terminal. All that hapens there is a string gets pulled in, they get dumped onto a conveyor (corn, soybean, you name it), and this is all during the day. Sine all of this is done within the yard (off the main line) and not over streets, there is little need to blow the horn.

Posted by georgetown stew | December 8, 2006 10:13 AM

(^%@*)#* spelling!

Posted by georgetown stew | December 8, 2006 10:25 AM

I lived 20 yards from the tracks that go along the Missippi river many year ago. I now live near Monsoon and hear the train at night.
Some possible factors:
Trains use their horns more at night.
The aforementioned ambient noise.
You are more likely to be quietly reading a book or in bed with your ears turned up at night.
When I lived on the river I would sleep through most trains but there was always one that screamed your name and you'd wake up thinking the world was being ripped in half.

Posted by m. Hertzmann | December 8, 2006 11:25 AM

Heard them all the time at 18th and Howell. Not so much from the state of Oaxaca, though.

Posted by Grant Cogswell | December 8, 2006 12:30 PM

It's the holiday party boats on Lake Washington, Portage Bay and Lake Union.

Posted by Jim | December 8, 2006 12:39 PM

I live in Squire Park and here those trains EVERY NIGHT. The first night startled me, but now it calms me. Incredible in a big city we are quite enough for the sound and echos to reach us.

Posted by Abbey | December 8, 2006 6:19 PM

I've been hearing train horns at night for all ten years I've lived on Capitol Hill. There's some crazy acoustics up here--several times, especially in the summer, like Bumbershoot time--I've heard concerts from Seattle Center. One night, maybe 1999, I was up at Volunteer Park and got some not-bad sound from the R.E.M. concert across town.

Posted by LAB | December 8, 2006 8:11 PM

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