Free Press Journal

Honking is ‘mother-tongue’ of Railways

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Mumbai : Ever thought why a motorman honks in a different pattern at a station, other than a single whistle which is blown like a ritual before the train chugs out of the platform.

The Indian Railways has a set of 32 different kinds of honking styles, which are operated on a coding system. This system is called a ‘Bell Code.’

Out of the 32 types of horns, 16 are exclusively used by the Mumbai’s local trains. The remaining set of the horns are used by long-distance trains.


For the motorman and loco pilots, it is the mother tongue of the Indian Railways. Sixty-two-year-old Ashok Kumar, a retired loco pilot of Central Railway said that these horns are nothing but a whistle to communicate with the staffers, who are responsible for operating thousands of trains safely.

The most popular of them is the ‘three bell honking,’ which is blown if somebody pulls the emergency chain inside the coach of the train. This also releases a small lever, which is mounted at the end of the coach. In order to reset the lever, the signalling staff has to manually push the lever inside for the alarm in the motorman’s cabin to stop.

In case of long distance trains, the duty of the loco pilot is to alert the commuters in order to board the train. They use two types of whistles which includes long and short in order to alert them.

“We usually give two short horns and a long horn after a chain is pulled during an emergency. Long horns are used during emergency situations like derailment, accident and trespassing by railway commuters,” added Kumar, who has been a loco pilot for 40 long years.

Two short whistles are blown when the signal turns green and it is set to leave the station. The whistles are blown as and when the signal changes.

With the advancement in technology, the motorman has started using walkie-talkies in order to communicate with the guard. Earlier, the guard of the train was supposed to wave a green flag to the loco pilot after the horn was blown. This was done in order to indicate safe passage.