Forget Horns: Some Trains in Japan Bark Like Dogs to Scare Away Deer

iStock
iStock

In Japan, growing deer populations are causing friction on the railways. The number of deer hit by trains each year is increasing, so the Railway Technical Research Institute has come up with a novel idea for curbing the problem, according to the BBC. Researchers there are using the sound of barking dogs to scare deer away from danger zones when trains are approaching, preventing train damage, delays, and of course, deer carnage.

It’s not your standard horn. In pilot tests, Japanese researchers have attached speakers that blare out a combination of sounds designed specifically to ward off deer. First, the recording captures the animals’ attention by playing a snorting sound that deer use as an “alarm call” to warn others of danger. Then, the sound of howling dogs drives the deer away from the tracks so the train can pass.

Before this initiative, the problem of deer congregating on train tracks seemed intractable. Despite the best efforts of railways, the animals aren’t deterred by ropes, barriers, flashing lights, or even lion feces meant to repel them. Kintetsu Railway has had some success with ultrasonic waves along its Osaka line, but many rail companies are still struggling to deal with the issue. Deer flock to railroad tracks for the iron filings that pile up on the rails, using the iron as a dietary supplement. (They have also been known to lick chain link fences.)

The new deer-deterring soundtrack is particularly useful because it's relatively low-tech and would be cheap to implement. Unlike the ultrasonic plan, it doesn’t have to be set up in a particular place or require a lot of new equipment. Played through a speaker on the train, it goes wherever the train goes, and can be deployed whenever necessary. One speaker on each train could do the job for a whole railway line.

The researchers found that the recordings they designed could reduce the number of deer sightings near the train tracks by as much as 45 percent during winter nights, which typically see the highest collision rates. According to the BBC, the noises will only be used in unpopulated areas, reducing the possibility that people living near the train tracks will have to endure the sounds of dogs howling every night for the rest of their lives.

Deer aren't the only animals that Japanese railways have sought to protect against the dangers of railroad tracks. In 2015, the Suma Aqualife Park and the West Japan Railway Company teamed up to create tunnels that could serve as safer rail crossings for the turtles that kept getting hit by trains.

[h/t BBC]

Why Some Lines in the Road Are Yellow and Others Are White

Gang Zhou, iStock via Getty Images
Gang Zhou, iStock via Getty Images

Even if you can't explain the significance behind every color and symbol used in road signs, you may understand them on a subconscious level. That's why the designs are chosen in the first place: Our brains associate colors with certain feelings, and on the road, a symbol's ability to communicate danger in less time than it takes to read a word could mean the difference between life and death.

This was taken into consideration when the federal government standardized the markings used to separate traffic lanes in 1971. Today the lines are painted in two colors: White for when both traffic lanes are traveling in the same direction and yellow for when they're not. The distinction is meant to prevent accidents, but it took years to convince officials that it was the right choice.

Edward Hines designed the first modern centerline for a road in the early 1900s. He made it white, inspired by spilled milk he once saw on a freshly paved road, and that color remained the default for decades. By 1955, most states used white stripes to divide their traffic lanes. The one exception was Oregon. The state insisted that yellow was a better way to signal caution—a claim the rest of the country didn't buy. Oregon ultimately agreed to change its centerlines to white when the government threatened to withhold $300 million in highway funding.

By 1971, the people in charge of standardizing highway symbols had come around to Oregon's point of view. The case for yellow as the color for caution was stronger than ever: It had been implemented in stoplights as the signal for slow and it was even the color of stop signs in the early 20th century.

But not every centerline needed to come with such a strong warning. While the color of lines separating parallel traffic flow remained white, yellow was used as a buffer between cars driving in the opposite directions—in other words, the lines that are most dangerous to cross. That rule in the 1971 edition of the Manual of Uniform Control Devices for Streets and Highways is still standard today.

Many road sign features, like the green in interstate signs, have interesting origin stories. Here are more facts about the roads you take every day.

[h/t Reader's Digest]

The Reason Escalator Stairs Are Grooved

Thanks to the escalator stairs' grooves, these feet are not in danger.
Thanks to the escalator stairs' grooves, these feet are not in danger.
ananaline/iStock via Getty Images

The thin metal grooves in escalator stairs might make the entire structure look extra dangerous, but they’re actually there for your safety.

As George R. Strakosch writes in The Vertical Transportation Handbook, the steps are cleated “so that people who ride with their toes against the riser will not have their soft shoe soles drawn between the steps as the steps straighten out.”

In other words, the grooves allow ascending steps to merge into a flat surface at the top of the escalator with minimal space between them. That way, the edge of a flip-flop or a runaway plastic bag won’t get sucked into the structure. According to Reader’s Digest, the (often yellow) strips of hardware with comb-like metal teeth that run along the top and bottom edges of escalators are there for the same reason. As the stairs disappear back into the depths of the escalator, these aptly named comb plates keep out anything that shouldn’t go with them.

Since escalator technology isn’t quite advanced enough to have comb plates toss that trash into the nearest garbage can, it’s still up to us to dispose of any litter a comb plate has pushed aside. But the most important part is that it’s been barred from entering the underbelly of the machine, where it could cause the escalator to break down.

The grooves also prevent liquids from pooling on the surface of the stairs, making escalators puddle-free—and possibly even safer than a regular set of stairs, at least on a rainy day.

[h/t Reader’s Digest]

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