Train Whistles Send Signals!
There are different combinations of long and short blasts on the of the locomotive's whistle or horn. They let the train crew communicate. Here are some:
Apply brakes, stop!
Release brakes, proceed.
Approaching a crossing.
Flagman protect rear of train.
When standing, back up.
When standing, start.
A series of shorts: emergency, something on the tracks!
There are others, and there may be some variations when such signals are sent from the conductor to the engine via a communication gong, buzzer, or whiste. Procedures are included in railroad handbooks.
An authoritative discussion of railroad signals generally is available here, from Trains magazine.
Other aspects of controlling trains, such as trackside signals, block control, etc. may be viewed here.
Today, much communication to and onboard trains is by radio, with railroads and toy trains taking full advantage of the digital revolution.
Today's Toy Train Fact
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Scout Railroading Badge If you're in the Boy Scouts, you can go for this badge that includes real and toy trains! (Availability may be limited, ask your troop leader.)
What's the largest train layout in the world? Northlandz, in Flemington, NJ claims to be. It has 8 miles of track and up to 100 trains running at once.
Smallest? We aren't sure, but how about a Z gauge layout that fits into a briefcase, or a coffee table layout under glass?
Toy Train Web Sites
There are hundreds of sites. See some on our list here.