The commotion does serve a purpose -- each type of honk is different and indicates a safety message to approaching trains.
o → short sound
=→ long sound
Succession of short sounds : an attempt to attract attention to the train. It is used when persons or livestock are on the track at other-than-road crossings at grade.
= : When train is stopped.
== : Train releases brakes and proceeds
o o : Acknowledgment of any signal not otherwise provided for
o o o : When train is stopped: means backing up, or acknowledgment of a hand signal to back up
o o o o : A request for a signal to be given or repeated if not understood
= o o o : Instruction for flagman to protect rear of train
= = = = : The flagman may return from west or south
= = = = = : The flagman may return from east or north
= = o = : Train is approaching public crossings at grade with engine in front
o = : Inspect the brake system for leaks or sticking brakes
= o : Train is approaching men or equipment on or near the track, regardless of any whistle prohibitions
Information provided by up.com.