"Clang, clang, clang went the trolley" in the old song and people smiled at the sound, but some of the people living along the new light rail line crossing at Seminary Avenue in Lutherville are not smiling over sound of the air horn on the modern-day trolley.
Kurt and Sally Russell live near the crossing and they say the air horns awaken them each morning and night. They liken the sound to that of "Chinese water torture."
The Russells and 60 of their neighbors have signed petitions and persuaded Councilman Douglas B. Riley, R-4th, to propose a law that would make it illegal for light rail engineers to blow their horns at the Seminary Avenue crossing.
The bill is scheduled to be introduced before the County Council on Sept. 8 and be voted on in October.
If the law is passed, it would make a light rail engineer subject to a $100 fine for blowing a horn at the crossing.
Mr. Riley, of Towson, said the law would not affect Conrail trains because the county cannot regulate interstate trains covered by the federal Interstate Commerce Commission Act.
Mrs. Russell said the horns aren't too bothersome in the daytime, but the late night trains, such as those coming back from Oriole games, and the pre-dawn runs are slowly driving her and her husband crazy.
"Try it at 5:30 a.m.," she said.
Conrail freight trains rumble through several times a week between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.
Those Conrail trains also blow their horns. The freights used to run in the daytime, but changed their times to accommodate the light rail's 6 a.m. to 11 p.m. schedule.
Mass Transit Administration policy requires light-rail engineers tosound their horns at rail crossings as a safety precaution.
The horns supplement the bells and red lights that signal the 150 trains that pass through the Baltimore County crossing each day.
The Russells, backed by the Lutherville Community Association Inc., argue that the gates, bells and signal lights provide sufficient warning.
The Russells' opposition to the horns is not shared by everyone in the neighborhood.
Walter Brown, 80, lives on Railroad Avenue just 30 feet from the tracks.
He said the new trolley horns don't bother him, although the Conrail freight horns can be bothersome.
Mr. Brown said he thinks the horns are needed "because people go around the gates."
Leonard Jackson, 62, a 35-year resident of Railroad Avenue, agreed with Mr. Brown.
"I don't have any problem" with the trolley horns, he said. "They don't bother me."
Ronald J. Hartman, the MTA's director, said solving the noise problem could create a worse problem: injury and death to motorists who try to cut across ahead of the trains.
"I'm sympathetic" to the complaints, said Mr. Hartman.
He also said he is worried that people who try to squeeze around the railroad safety gates could get hit by the trains, which move through the crossing at about 40 mph.
He said that the MTA is experimenting with shorter horn blasts at night that will lessen the noise but still warn motorists of oncoming trains.
Robert Libkind, a spokesman for Conrail in Philadelphia, said several Florida towns passed ordinances last year similar to the one proposed by Mr. Riley.
A federal Railroad Administration study showed that the
accident rates at crossings increased by 195 percent after the laws went into effect.
Conrail trains resumed sounding horns at crossings after th study, said Mr. Libkind.
He also said a court case is still pending in Florida to decide i the towns can keep the trains from sounding their horns.
Mr. Riley said he has seen the study, but he said the Floridcrossings did not have gates to keep cars off the tracks when the freights rolled through.