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Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook - Revised Second Edition August 2007
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Special Issues

Several issues are important to highway-rail grade crossing safety and operations that either were not specifically covered in previous chapters or warrant special consideration. These include private crossings; short-line railroads; high-speed rail corridors; pedestrians; bicycles and motorcycles; special vehicles; low-cost active devices; and intelligent transportation system (ITS) applications.

A. Private Crossings

Private highway-rail grade crossings are on roadways not open to use by the public nor maintained by a public authority. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) National Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory, there were 97,306 private crossings in the United States in 2005. Usually, an agreement between the land owner and the railroad governs the use of the private crossing. Typical types of private crossings are as follows:

•    Farm crossings that provide access between tracts of land lying on both sides of the railroad.

•    Industrial plant crossings that provide access between plant facilities on both sides of the railroad.

•    Residential access crossings over which the occupants and their invitees reach private residences from another road, frequently a public road paralleling and adjacent to the railroad right of way.

•    Temporary crossings established for the duration of a private construction project or other seasonal activity.

In some instances, changes in land use have resulted in expansion of a crossing’s use to the extent that it has become a public crossing, as evidenced by frequent use by the general public. This may occur whether or not any public agency has accepted responsibility for maintenance or control of the use of the traveled way over the crossing. The railroad and highway agency should continually review the use of private crossings so that mutual agreement is obtained on the appropriate classification. If the general public is making use of a crossing, appropriate traffic control devices should be installed for warning and guidance. Usually, state and federal funds are not available for use at private crossings.

The number of collisions at private crossings represents a small portion of all crossing collisions; however, safe design and operation at private crossings should not be overlooked. Very few private crossings have active traffic control devices and many do not have signs. Typically, they are on narrow gravel roads, often with poor roadway approaches.

At present, responsibilities for private highway-rail crossings are not clearly understood or consistently applied. This is an institutional problem that has impeded safety improvement programs at private crossings. Between 1982 and 1991, collisions at private highway-rail crossings ranged from a high of 648 (in 1984) to a low of 480 (in 1990). During this period, safety improvement programs at public crossings effected a reduction in collisions of approximately 26 percent. Private crossing collisions also declined during this period but only by 16 percent.

In 2004, there were 412 collisions, 33 fatalities, and 136 injuries at private crossings. These represent reductions, since 2000, of 9.8 percent in collisions, 40.0 percent in fatalities, and 2.9 percent in injuries, as shown in Table 50.

As with collisions at public crossings, the majority of collisions at private crossings involved automobiles. Table 51 gives the number of collisions and casualties by roadway user for 2004.

Table 50. Collisions at Private Crossings, 2000–2004

























Source: Federal Railroad Administration Safety Data Website (safetydata.fra.dot.gov/officeofsafety).

Historical data indicate that approximately 60 percent of motor vehicle collisions occurred during daylight, about one-third occurred during darkness, and the remaining share occurred during either dusk or dawn. Most of the collisions involving motor vehicles (137, or 38.3 percent) occurred at crossings with STOP signs, as shown in Table 52. Collision rates (number of collisions at crossings with each type of traffic control device divided by number of crossings with that type of traffic control device) cannot be determined for private crossings because no national statistics are kept on the type of traffic control devices at private crossings.

Some states and railroads have established minimum signing requirements for private crossings. Typically, these signs consist of a crossbuck, STOP sign, and/or a warning against trespassing. California and Oregon public utility commissioners use a standard highway STOP sign together with a sign indicating that the crossing is a private crossing. A typical configuration is shown in Figure 68.

Table 51. Collisions at Private Crossings by Roadway User, 2004




Type of vehicle
























































* “Other” usually refers to farm equipment.

Source: Federal Railroad Administration Safety Data Website (safetydata.fra.dot.gov/officeofsafety).

Table 52. Motor Vehicle Collisions at Private Crossings by Traffic Control Device, 2004

Traffic control device



Automatic gates



Flashing lights



Highway signals, wigwags, or bells









STOP signs



Other signs



No signs or signals






Source: Federal Railroad Administration Safety Data Website (safetydata.fra.dot.gov/officeofsafety).

As with public crossings, the first consideration for improving private crossings is closure. Adjacent crossings should be evaluated to determine if they can be used instead of the private crossing. Every effort to close the crossing should be made.

An example of a private crossing program is the Private Crossing Safety Initiative developed by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT). This initiative evaluates private crossings, although private grade crossings are typically under the jurisdiction of railroad companies. NCDOT is proceeding with crossing safety improvements along the Charlotte, North Carolina to Raleigh, North Carolina “Sealed Corridor” by closing private crossings where feasible and protecting the private crossings that will remain open with crossbucks, automatic flashers and gates, signals, and locking gates. These improvements will be identified through a systematic analysis conducted on all 46 private crossings within the NC Railroad Company corridor operated by Norfolk Southern and CSX Transportation. There is no legal precedent for public agency involvement in crossing safety enhancements, consolidation, or closure of private crossings on a corridor basis. Therefore, this initiative will require cooperation among the state, railroads, and all property owners who utilize private crossings within the corridor.

Figure 68. Typical Private Crossing Sign

Figure 68. Typical Private Crossing Sign. This diagram shows a Stop Sign with a Private RXR Crossing No Trespassing sign posted underneath.

Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1986.

Another example of a state policy regarding private crossings recently adopted by West Virginia is included in Appendix J.

If the private crossing is determined to be essential to the private landowner, the crossing should be marked with some type of sign. Controversy exists over whether the marking should be identical to public crossings, so that the motorist is presented with uniform traffic control devices, or whether the marking should be distinct to notify the motorist that the crossing is private and that use without permission is trespassing. No national guidelines exist; however, it seems reasonable that the crossing should be marked so that it is identified as a private crossing. Supplemental crossbucks or STOP signs might also be installed.

Some private crossings have sufficient train and roadway traffic volume that they require active traffic control devices. Considerations for the installation of these devices are the same as for public crossings, as discussed in Chapter I V. Federal funds and, often, state funds cannot be used for the installation of traffic control improvements at private crossings. The railroad and the landowner usually come to an agreement regarding the financing of the devices. In some cases, if the landowner is required to pay for the installation of the crossing and its traffic control devices, the landowner might reevaluate the need for the crossing.

B. Short-Line Railroads

There are numerous short-line railroads, and the number is growing due to federal deregulation. Short-line railroads are typically Class III railroads, as defined by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Class III railroads include all switching and terminal companies and all line-haul railroads that have annual gross revenue of less than $10 million, in 1978 constant dollars. Many of these short-line railroads provide switching and terminal services for the larger Class I and II railroad companies. Many short-line railroads belong to the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA). Headquartered in Washington, DC, ASLRRA provides liaison with governmental agencies, serves as a source for information and assistance, and provides other benefits to short-line railroads.

Some short-line railroads took over the operation of a single line that a larger railroad abandoned for economic reasons. Short-line railroads often require assistance with regard to highway-rail grade crossings because of their limited manpower and financial resources. These small railroads are often unable to seek out federal and state funds for improving crossings, yet safety at their crossings is just as important as at any other crossing.

Ownership of these smaller lines comes from a variety of investment sources, such as state or local governments, port authorities, other short lines, private entrepreneurs, and shipper groups. Many new owners of short lines are keenly aware of the costs of line acquisition, track and rolling stock rehabilitation, and other operational expenditures. However, new operators may be unaware of the substantial expenditures needed for rebuilding crossing surfaces, renewing older traffic control systems, and maintaining them.

Costs associated with crossings may constitute a considerable portion of the limited annual maintenance-of-way budgets of short-line railroads. The general condition of the abandoned plant, as acquired by the new owner, is usually far from best. The track condition may be adequate, requiring relatively little annual expense in comparison to other plant needs. Therefore, as annual track maintenance costs are reduced, crossing expenditures may constitute as much as 50 percent of the annual maintenance-of-way budget over the next 10 years. This, of course, depends on factors such as the location of the line in relation to population centers and intensities of heavy truck traffic.

On short-line railroads, there is often a lack of specialized personnel for handling the many crossing responsibilities, such as the continuing maintenance of highly complex electronic crossing traffic control equipment.

Although rail traffic on the smaller lines generally tends to be sparse as well as slow, these crossings, in comparison to larger railroads, are not necessarily safer. National statistics indicate that the vast majority of crossing collisions occur at relatively low train speeds.

Adequate planning is essential to ensure the proper formation of new short-line railroads and to improve their survival as a necessary part of the U.S. transportation system. When dealing with short-line railroads, state agencies should be aware of their limited experience, skills, and knowledge. State agencies can assist by informing short-line railroads of the requirements for improving crossings on their system and direct them to other appropriate sources of information. State agencies should ensure that the short-line railroads operating in their state are included in the lines of communication regarding crossings. Short-line railroads also should be encouraged to participate in other crossing safety programs, such as Operation Lifesaver.

C. Light-Rail Lines and Issues

1. Motor Vehicle Turning Treatments

Motor vehicles that make illegal turns in front of approaching light-rail vehicles (LRV) account for the greatest percentage of total collisions for most light-rail train (LRT) systems. Moreover, when such a collision occurs, the door of the motor vehicle is the only protection between the driver/passenger and the LRV, which makes turning collisions one of the most severe types of collisions between motor vehicles and LRVs. Traffic control devices that regulate turns are critical to LRT and general traffic safety.

Where turning traffic crosses a non-gated, semi-exclusive LRT alignment and is controlled by left- or right-turn arrow signal indications, Transit Cooperative Research Program (TCRP) Report 17 recommends that the LRT agency install an LRV-activated, flashing, internally illuminated warning sign displaying the front view LRV symbol (W10-7) when the LRV approaches.132 When such a sign is used, the turn arrow signal indication serves as the primary regulatory control device and the flashing, internally illuminated warning sign supplements it, warning motorists of the increased risk associated with violating the turn arrow signal indication.

At the June 2005 meeting of the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD), the council approved modifications to Part 10, which would allow use of the W10-7 active warning train icon sign as a supplemental device for any traffic crossing an LRT trackway, regardless of whether it is turning or continuing through.

Where turning traffic crosses a non-gated, semi-exclusive LRT alignment and is controlled by a STOP sign or signal without a turn arrow (such as a permissive left or right turn), TCRP Report 17 recommends that an LRV-activated, internally illuminated “No Left/Right Turn” (R3-2/R3-1) symbol sign be provided to restrict left or right turns when an LRV is approaching (see Figure 69). Because these signs would serve as the primary control devices regulating turning movements, TCRP Report 17 recommends that two signs be provided for each parallel approach. The LRV-activated, internally illuminated sign displaying the legend NO LEFT/RIGHT TURN may be used as an alternate to the active, internally illuminated symbol sign.

Table 53 summarizes the recommended practices for the active, internally illuminated “No Left/Right Turn” symbol sign (regulatory) and the flashing, internally illuminated “Train Approaching” sign (warning) for median or side-running LRT alignments where parallel traffic is allowed to proceed during LRV movements.

Figure 69. No Turns Internally Illuminated Signs

Figure 69. No Turns Internally Illuminated Signs. This diagram shows various signs restricting turns. Preferred signs demonstrate the no turn instruction with an image, alternate signs us words No Right Turn or No Left Turn.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Note that the action of the NCUTCD council at the June 2005 meeting would broaden the use of the train icon sign (W10-7) to include any location where traffic crosses an LRT trackway.

2. Use of Crossbuck Sign with LRT

When Part 10 was added to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), text was included that could be interpreted to mean that the crossbuck sign (R15-1) is required at every LRT crossing, regardless of the presence of any other traffic control devices. However, it is not customary practice to install the crossbuck sign at LRT grade crossings where the tracks are within a roadway and the primary traffic control device is a traffic signal. At the June 2005 meeting of NCUTCD, the council approved clarifying language indicating that the use of a crossbuck sign is optional for semi-exclusive or mixed alignments where other traffic control devices are present.

3. Pedestrian Crossing Treatments

Although collisions between LRVs and pedestrians occur less often than collisions between LRVs and motor vehicles, they are more severe. Furthermore, pedestrians are often not completely alert to their surroundings at all times, and LRVs, when operating in a street environment, are nearly silent. For these reasons, appropriate pedestrian crossing control systems are critical for LRT safety.

Table 53. Use of Active Internally Illuminated Signs for Parallel Traffic Turning Across LRT Tracks

Alignment type

Intersection traffic control device

“No Left/Right Turn” sign

Train icon sign for left/
right turnsa

Semi-exclusive gated




Traffic signal without arrowd

Recommended b


Traffic signal with arrowe

Not recommended


Semi-exclusive non-gated




Traffic signal without arrowd

Recommended b


Traffic signal with arrowe

Not recommended


a Left-turn signs are for median and side-aligned LRT alignments; right-turn signs are for side-aligned LRT alignments only.

b Alternatively, an all-red phase for motor vehicles and pedestrians may be used in combination with “No Turn On Red” (R10-11a) signs.

c Stop” refers to a STOP sign-controlled intersection.

d ”Without arrow” refers to a signalized intersection at which the turning traffic has no red arrow displayed when an LRV is approaching but has either a steady green ball, a red ball, or a flashing red ball displayed.

e “With arrow” refers to a signalized intersection at which the turning traffic has a red arrow displayed when an LRV is approaching.

When a turn arrow traffic signal indication is used, TCRP Report 17 recommends that an exclusive turn lane be provided.

Source: Korve, Hans W. , Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Flashing light signal. At non-gated, unsignalized, pedestrian-only crossings of semi-exclusive LRT rights of way, a flashing light signal assembly (see Figure 70, option A), where LRT operates two ways on one track or on a double track, serves as the primary warning device. That is, when the red lenses of the flashing light signal are flashing alternately and the audible device of the flashing light signal is active, the pedestrian is required to remain clear of the tracks (Uniform Vehicle Code, Section 11-513).

Figure 70. Placement of Flashing Light Signal Assemblies

Figure 70. Placement of Flashing Light Signal Assemblies. This diagram shows a flashing light signal assembly located at an unsignalized pedestrian-only crossing without pedestrial automatic gates for Option A.  Option B shows a flashing light signal assembly and optional fence at an off-quadrant of gated crossings without pedestrian automatic gates.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

At motor vehicle, gated LRT crossings without pedestrian gates, TCRP Report 17 recommends that the flashing light signal assembly (Figure 70, option B) be used in the two quadrants without vehicle automatic gates. According to this recommendation, these signal devices should be installed adjacent to the pedestrian crossing facing out from the tracks. The signal assembly includes a standard crossbuck sign (R15-1) and, where there is more than one track, an auxiliary inverted T-shaped sign indicating the number of tracks (R15-2).

“Second Train Coming” sign. An LRV-activated, internally illuminated matrix sign displaying the pedestrian crossing configuration with one or two (or three or four, etc.) LRVs passing may be used to alert pedestrians to the direction from which one or multiple LRVs are approaching the crossing, especially at locations where pedestrian traffic is heavy (such as LRT stations). An example of the active matrix sign is shown in Figure 71.

Figure 71. Example Active Matrix Train Approaching Sign

Figure 71. Example Active Matrix Train Approaching Sign. This diagram shows an image of a person seeing a train car from a pedestrian crossing. There is a diagonal area pointing from the person's head toward the train car to represent site. The second sign shows the image of a person with two diagonal areas coming away from the head in two directions, representing sight lines to see the two train vehicles in front of the person on the pedestrian crossing.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Alternatively, an LRV-activated, internally illuminated flashing sign with the legend SECOND TRAIN—LOOK LEFT/RIGHT may be used to alert the pedestrian that a second LRV is approaching the crossing from a direction that the pedestrian might not be expecting (see Figure 72). This sign warns pedestrians that although one LRV has passed through the crossing, a second LRV is approaching, and that other warning devices (such as flashing light signal assembly and bell) will remain active until the second LRV has cleared the crossing.

Figure 72. Example Second Train Internally Illuminated Signs

Figure 72. Example Second Train Internally Illuminated Signs. This diagram shows two signs, one that reads Second Train Look Left, the other reads Second Train Look Right with arrows to left and right respectively.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

TCRP Report 17 recommends that the “Second Train— Look Left/Right” sign be placed on the far side of the crossing (and on the near side as well if necessary for pedestrian visibility), especially when the crossing is located near an LRT station, track junction, and/or multiple track alignment (more than two tracks). When this sign is activated, only one direction, left or right, is illuminated at any time. Furthermore, only one arrow (to the left of “Look” or the right of “Right”) is illuminated at any time—the one that points in the direction of the second approaching LRV. If two LRVs are very closely spaced so that they will pass through the pedestrian crossing almost simultaneously, TCRP Report 17 recommends that this sign not be activated because there would be no opportunity for pedestrians to cross between the successive LRVs, and pedestrians should look in both directions.

These warning signs should be mounted as close as possible to the minimum height above the ground set by MUTCD, Part II, Section 2A-23. If they are mounted higher than the minimum height specified (6 or 7 feet), pedestrians often will not see or will simply ignore the signs. They should be mounted lower than the minimum height only if pedestrians cannot injure themselves by colliding with the signs.

Dynamic envelope markings. TCRP Report 17 recommends that the LRV’s dynamic envelope be delineated at pedestrian crossings in semi-exclusive rights of way and along entire semi-exclusive and nonexclusive corridors. According to this recommendation, contrasting pavement texture should be used to identify an LRV’s dynamic envelope through a pedestrian crossing. A solid 4-inch-wide line may be used as an alternative. Tactile warning strips approved by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) can be considered a contrasting pavement texture, and their requirement may supersede the use of painted striping or other contrasting pavement texture. TCRP Report 17 recommends that in an LRT/pedestrian mall, the dynamic envelope be delineated in its entirety. As shown in Figure 73, the Sacramento, California LRT system uses ADA-approved tactile warning strips to delineate the dynamic envelope along the K Street LRT/ pedestrian mall.

In addition to pedestrian signals (including flashing light signals), warning signs, and dynamic envelope markings, several pedestrian barrier systems have proven effective in reducing collisions between LRVs and pedestrians. These barriers, and the transit systems or railroads where they have been successfully installed, include the following:

Curbside pedestrian barriers. Between intersections in shared rights of way, TCRP Report 17 recommends that curbside barriers (landscaping, bedstead barriers, fences, and/or bollards and chains) be provided along side-aligned LRT operations where LRVs operate two ways on a one-way street (contraflow operations). They may also be provided for one-way side-aligned LRT operations for normal flow alignments. As shown in Figure 74, the San Diego, California LRT system uses bollards along C Street to warn pedestrians of the LRT tracks.

Figure 73. ADA Dynamic Envelope Delineation in Sacramento, California

Figure 73. ADA Dynamic Envelope Delineation in Sacramento, California. This is an image of people walking across a curving roadway.

Source: Korve, Hans W. , Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Pedestrian automatic gates. Pedestrian automatic gates are the same as standard automatic crossing gates except that the gate arms are shorter. When they are activated by an approaching LRV, the automatic gates are used to physically prevent pedestrians from crossing the LRT tracks. TCRP Report 17 recommends that this type of gate be used in areas where pedestrian risk of a collision with an LRV is medium to high (for example, whenever LRV stopping sight distance is inadequate).

The preferred method is to provide pedestrian automatic gates in all four quadrants, installed as follows: Where right-of-way conditions permit, TCRP Report 17 recommends that the vehicle automatic gate be located behind the sidewalk (on the side that is away from the curb), so that the arm will extend across the sidewalk, blocking the pedestrian way (see Figure 75, option A). Longer and lighter gate arms make this installation feasible. However, experience suggests a maximum gate arm length of 38 feet for practical operation and maintenance. At crossings requiring the gate arm to be longer than 38 feet, a second automatic gate shall be placed in the roadway median. (Note that the effective coverage is less than 38 feet due to set-back requirements and the size of the gate mechanism.)

Figure 74. San Diego, California Curbside Pedestrian Barriers

Figure 74. San Diego, California Curbside Pedestrian Barriers. This is an image of rows of barricades along a track.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

To provide four-quadrant protection, TCRP Report 17 recommends that two single-unit pedestrian automatic gates also be installed behind the sidewalk, across the tracks, opposite the vehicle automatic gates. This vehicle and pedestrian automatic gate configuration is shown in Figure 76 and is preferred because it keeps the sidewalk clear for pedestrians and minimizes roadside hazards for motorists.

Figure 75. Placement of Pedestrian Automatic Gates

Figure 75. Placement of Pedestrian Automatic Gates. This is a diagram of a roadway with an intersecting rail track showing optional fencing on each side and a single unit pedestrian automatic gate installed inside edge of sidewalk (Option A) or curbside edge of sidewalk (Option B).

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

As an alternative, the pedestrian automatic gate may share the same assembly with a vehicle automatic gate (see Figure 75, option B). In this case, TCRP Report 17 recommends that a separate driving mechanism be provided for the pedestrian automatic gate so that a failure of the pedestrian automatic gate will not affect vehicle automatic gate operations. According to this recommendation, to provide four-quadrant protection, a single-unit pedestrian automatic gate should also be installed on the curbside of the sidewalk, across the tracks, opposite the vehicle automatic gate and pedestrian automatic gate assembly. This vehicle and pedestrian automatic gate configuration is shown in Figure 76.

The possibility of trapping pedestrians in the LRT right of way when four-quadrant pedestrian gates are installed should be minimized. TCRP Report 17 recommends establishing clearly marked pedestrian safety zones and escape paths within the crossing.

Swing gates. The swing gate (sometimes used in conjunction with flashing lights and bells) alerts pedestrians to the LRT tracks that are to be crossed and forces them to pause, thus deterring them from running freely across the tracks without unduly restricting their exit from the LRT right of way. The swing gate requires pedestrians to pull the gate to enter the crossing and push the gate to exit the protected track area; therefore, a pedestrian cannot physically cross the track area without pulling and opening the gate. TCRP Report 17 recommends that the gates be designed to return to the closed position after the pedestrian has passed, as shown in Figure 77.

Figure 76. Pedestrian Automatic Gate Examples

Figure 76. Pedestrian Automatic Gate Examples. This is an image of a railroad crossing gate and pedestrian gate, both lifting up.Pedestrian Automatic Gate Examples. This is an image of a pedestrian gate.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Swing gates may be used at pedestrian-only crossings, on sidewalks, and near stations (especially if the station is a transfer point with moderate pedestrian volumes) where pedestrian risk of a collision with an LRV is medium to high (for example, where there is moderate stopping sight distance, moderate pedestrian volume, etc.). These gates may be used at pedestrian crossings of either single-track (one- or two-way LRT operations) or double-track alignments.

TCRP Report 17 recommends that the use of swing gates be supplemented with proper signing mounted on or near the gates. Such signing includes the “Light Rail Transit Crossing/Look Both Ways” (W10-5a) sign (where LRVs operate two ways) or LRV-activated, internally illuminated warning signs and/or flashing light signal assemblies. Where LRVs operate in a single-track, two-way alignment, TCRP Report 17 recommends that an LRV-activated, internally illuminated matrix sign or active, internally illuminated sign with the legend TRAIN—LOOK LEFT/RIGHT be installed to supplement swing gates.

Bedstead barriers. The bedstead concept may be used in tight urban spaces where there is no fenced-in right of way, such as a pedestrian grade crossing at a street intersection (see Figure 78). The barricades are placed in an offset (maze-like) manner that requires pedestrians moving across the LRT tracks to navigate the passageway through the barriers. TCRP Report 17 recommends that they be designed and installed to turn pedestrians toward the approaching LRV before they cross each track, forcing them to look in the direction of oncoming LRVs. According to this recommendation, the barriers should also be used to delineate the pedestrian queuing area on both sides of the track area. Bollards and chains accomplish the same effect as bedstead barriers.

Bedstead barriers may be used for crossings where pedestrians are likely to run unimpeded across the tracks, such as stations or transfer points, particularly where pedestrian risk of a collision with an LRV is low to medium (for example, where there is excellent to moderate stopping sight distance, double tracking, low pedestrian volume, etc.). TCRP Report 17 recommends that the barriers be used in conjunction with flashing lights, pedestrian signals, and appropriate signing. Bedstead barriers may also be used in conjunction with automatic gates in high-risk areas.

TCRP Report 17 recommends that bedstead barriers not be used when LRVs operate in both directions on a single track because pedestrians may be looking the wrong way in some instances. Pedestrians also look in the wrong direction during LRV reverse-running situations; however, because reverse running is performed at lower speeds, this should not be a deterrent to this channeling approach.

Z-crossing channelization. The Z-crossing controls movements of pedestrians approaching LRT tracks. Its design and installation turn pedestrians toward the approaching LRV before they cross each track, forcing them to look in the direction of oncoming LRVs (see Figure 79).

Z-crossing channelization may be used at crossings where pedestrians are likely to run unimpeded across the tracks, such as isolated, midblock, pedestrian-only crossings, particularly where pedestrian risk of a collision with an LRV is low to medium (for example, where there is excellent stopping sight distance, double tracking, low pedestrian volume, etc.).

Figure 77. Pedestrian Swing Gate Examples

Figure 77. Pedestrian Swing Gate Examples. These are two images of pedestrian swing gates with signs saying Look Both Ways for Trains.

Source: Korve, Hans W. , Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Figure 78. Bedstead Barrier Application

Figure 78. Bedstead Barrier Application. This is an image of two people walking through a bedstead pedestrian barrier.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Z-crossings used with pedestrian signals create a safer environment for pedestrians than Z-crossings used alone. This type of channelization device may also be used in conjunction with automatic gates in high-risk areas. TCRP Report 17 recommends that the Z-crossing not be used when LRVs operate in both directions on a single track because pedestrians may be looking the wrong way in some instances. Pedestrians also look in the wrong direction during LRV reverse-running situations; however, because reverse running is performed at lower speeds, this should not be a deterrent to this channeling approach.

Figure 79. San Diego, California Pedestrian Z-Crossing

Figure 79. San Diego, California Pedestrian Z-Crossing. This is an image of a z-shaped pedestrian crossing over railroad tracks.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Combined pedestrian treatments. The pedestrian crossing/barrier systems described may be used in combination, as shown in Figure 80, depending on pedestrian risk of a collision with an LRV at the crossing. Moreover, pedestrian safety and queuing areas should always be provided and clearly marked.

4. Solutions to Observed Problems

Table 54 presents some possible solutions to common problems at LRV crossings. This material was presented in TCRP Report 69, which addresses LRT operation at speeds greater than 35 miles per hour (mph).

Figure 80. Illustrative Pedestrian Treatment

Figure 80. Illustrative Pedestrian Treatment. This is a diagram of a pedestrian walkway from a sidewalk or street through various rail tracks, with pedestrian safety queuing areas, pedestrian automatic gates, dynamic envelope delineation and bedstead barriers.

Source: Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Report 17, Transportation Research Board, 1996.

Table 54. Possible Solutions to Observed Problems


Possible solution

1. System design

• Vehicles driving around closed automatic gates.

Install raised medians with barrier curbs.

Install channelization devices (traffic dots or flexible posts).

Install longer automatic gate arms.

Photo enforcement.

Four-quadrant gates.

For parallel traffic, install protected signal indications or LRV-activated “No Right/Left Turn” signs (R3-1, 2).

For parallel traffic, install turn automatic gates.

• LRV operator cannot visually confirm if gates are working.

Install gate indication signals or in-cab wireless video link.

Install and monitor at a central control facility a Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition system.

• Slow trains share tracks/crossings with LRVs and near-side LRT station stops.

Constant warning time. Use gate delay timers.

• Motorist disregard for regulatory signs at LRT crossings and grade crossing warning devices.

Avoid excessive use of signs. Photo enforcement.

• Motor vehicles queue back across LRT tracks from a nearby intersection controlled by STOP signs (R1-1).

Allow free flow (no STOP sign) off the tracks or signalize intersection and interconnect with grade crossing.

• Sight distance limitations at LRT crossings.

Maximize sight distance by limiting potential obstructions to 1.1 meter (3.5 feet) in height within about 30 to 60 meters (100 to 200 feet) of the LRT crossing (measured parallel to the tracks back from the crossing).

• Motor vehicles queue across LRT tracks from downstream obstruction.

Install “Do Not Stop on Tracks” sign. Install “Keep Clear” zone striping. Install queue cutter signal.

• Automatic gate and traffic signal interconnect malfunctions.

Install plaque at crossing with 1-800 phone number and crossing name and/or identification number.

2. System operations

• Freight line converted to or shared with light-rail transit.

For new LRT systems, initially operate LRVs slower, then increase speed over time.

• Collisions occur when second LRV approaches pedestrian crossing.

When practical, first LRV slows/stops in pedestrian crossing, blocking pedestrian access until second, opposite direction LRV enters crossing.

• Motorists disregard grade crossing warning devices.

Adequately maintain LRT crossing hardware (routinely align flashing light signals) and reduce device “clutter.”

• Emergency preparedness.

Training of staff and emergency response teams (fire, police).

3. Traffic signal placement and operation

• Motorists confused about apparently conflicting flashing light signal and traffic signal indicators.

Use traffic signals on the near side of the LRT crossing (pre-signals) with programmable visibility or louvered traffic signal heads for far-side intersection control.

Avoid using cantilevered flashing light signals with cantilevered traffic signals.

• Track clearance phasing.

Detect LRVs early to allow termination of conflicting movements (pedestrians).

• Excessive queuing near LRT crossings.

Use queue prevention strategies, pre-signals.



Possible solution

• Turning vehicles hesitate during track clearance interval.

Provide protected signal phases for through and turning motor vehicles.

• Vehicles queue back from closed gates into intersection.

Control turning traffic toward the crossing.

• LRT crosses two approaches to a signalized intersection (diagonal crossing).

Detect LRVs early enough to clear both roadway approaches and/or use pre-signals or queue cutter signals.

Delay the lowering of the gates that control vehicles departing the common intersection.

• Motorists confused about gates starting to go up and then lowering for a second, opposite direction LRV.

Detect LRVs early enough to avoid gate pumping (also allows for a nearby traffic signal controller to respond to a second LRV preemption).

At near-side station locations, keep gates raised until LRV is ready to depart.

• LRT versus emergency vehicle preemption.

At higher-speed LRT crossings (speeds greater than 55 km/hr. (35 mph)), LRVs receive first priority and emergency vehicles second priority.

• Turning motorists violate red protected left-turn indication due to excessive delay.

Recover from preemption to phase that was preempted.

• With leading left-turn phasing, motorists violate red protected left-turn arrow during preemption.

Switch from leading left-turn phasing to lagging left-turn phasing.

4. Automatic gate placement

• At angled crossings or for turning traffic, gates descend on top of or behind motor vehicles.

Install gates parallel to LRT tracks.

Install advanced traffic signal to control turning traffic.

5. Pedestrian control

• Limited sight distance at pedestrian crossing.

Install pedestrian automatic gates (with flashing light signals and bells (or alternative audible device)).

• Pedestrians dart across LRT tracks without looking.

Install warning signs. Install swing gates.

• Pedestrians fail to look both ways before crossing tracks.

Channel pedestrians (Z-crossings).

Paint LRT directional arrow between tracks.

• Pedestrians ignore warning signs.

Mount signs closer to average eye level for pedestrians. Install active pedestrian warning devices. Provide education and enforcement.

• Pedestrians stand too close to tracks as train approaches crossing.

Install pedestrian stop bar with tactile warning outside of the dynamic envelope.

• Pedestrians and bicyclists routinely cross the LRT tracks behind the automatic gate mechanism while it is activated.

Install positive control behind the sidewalk (if present) or roadway shoulder.

Source: Korve, Hans W. , Brent D. Ogden, Joaquin T. Siques, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Light Rail Service: Pedestrian and Vehicular Safety. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Project Report 69, Transportation Research Board, 2001.

D. High-Speed Rail Corridors

Special consideration must be given to highway-rail grade crossings on high-speed passenger train routes. The potential for a catastrophic collision injuring many passengers demands special attention. This not only includes dedicated routes with speeds over 100 mph but also other passenger routes over which trains may operate at speeds higher than freight trains.

Variations in warning time may occur with high-speed passenger trains at crossings equipped with active traffic control devices. Because of the wide variation in train speeds (passenger trains versus freight trains), train detection circuitry should be designed to provide the appropriate advance warning for all trains.

High-speed passenger trains present additional problems at crossings with only passive traffic control devices. Safe sight distance along the track from a stopped position must be much greater for a faster train. The sight distance along the track from the highway approach must also be greater unless vehicle speed is reduced. In addition, it is difficult to judge the speed of an oncoming train.

Private crossings are a major concern for high-speed passenger trains. These crossings usually have only passive traffic control devices and often consist of narrow, unimproved, or gravel roads with limited visibility along the railroad tracks.

Special attention should be given to crossings on high-speed rail passenger routes. Some states utilize priority indices that include a factor for train speed or potential dangers to large numbers of people. In this manner, crossings with high-speed passenger trains are likely to rank higher than other crossings and, thus, be selected for crossing improvements.

Another method for improving crossings on high-speed passenger routes is to utilize the systems approach. As discussed in Chapter III, the systems approach involves the inspection and evaluation of safety and operations at crossings within a specified system, such as along a high-speed rail corridor.

It is desirable that all crossings located on high-speed rail corridors either be closed, grade separated, or equipped with automatic gates. The train detection circuitry should provide constant warning time. Where feasible, other site improvements may be necessary at these crossings. Sight distance should be improved by clearing all unnecessary signs, parking, and buildings from each quadrant. Vegetation should be periodically cut back or removed. Improvements in the geometries of the crossing should be made to provide the best braking and acceleration distances for vehicles.

Education of the public is an important element for the improvement of safety and operations at crossings on high-speed rail corridors. This can be accomplished with publicity campaigns and public service announcements, as described in the next chapter. Public education might also alleviate some fears of high-speed trains and provide for better railroad-community relations. State agencies and railroads should cooperatively undertake this.

Special signing might also be employed at these crossings to remind the public that the crossings are used by high-speed trains. No national standard exists for such signing; however, the signing should be in conformance with the guidelines provided in MUTCD.

E. Special Vehicles, Pedestrians, Motorcycles, and Bicycles

Highway-rail grade crossings are designed and controlled to accommodate the vehicles that use them. The vast majority of these vehicles consist of automobiles, buses, and all types of trucks. Generally speaking, improvements to a crossing with these users in mind will be adequate for any other special users, such as trucks carrying hazardous materials, long-length trucks, school buses, motorcycles, bicycles, and pedestrians. However, these users have unique characteristics and special needs that should be considered. Chapter II discussed some of these characteristics. This chapter will present some design and control considerations.

1. Trucks with Hazardous Material Cargo

Collisions involving trucks with hazardous material cargo are potentially the most dangerous because they can have deleterious effects over a wide area. Consequently, all crossings used by these vehicles should be considered for improvements and, in turn, these improvements should consider the special needs of these vehicles.

Drawing on the National Transportation Safety Board’s study of train collisions involving these vehicles and their subsequent recommendations, several suggestions are provided to address this concern:

•    Trucks carrying bulk hazardous material should use routes that have grade separations or active control devices. Where routes that have crossings with only passive control devices are near terminals, the crossings should be considered for upgrading to active control.

•    Ensure that active warning devices are activated with enough “warning time” (activation in advance of the arrival of a train) so that trucks have the available distance required for stopping. Also, for vehicles stopped at the crossing when signals are not operating, adequate warning time should be provided for clearance of tracks by loaded trucks before the arrival of a train.

•    If feasible, where there is an intersection in close proximity to the crossing, increase the storage space (defined as the “clear storage distance” in MUTCD) between the tracks and the intersecting highway. If on a direct route to a truck terminal, also consider giving right of way to the critical movement through control measures.

•    Promote a program of education and enforcement to reduce the frequency of hazardous driving and alert the driver of potential danger. Driver training and education programs such as Operation Lifesaver should be expanded to include a specific program that addresses the problems.

At crossings where a significant volume of trucks is required to stop, consideration should be given to providing a pull-out lane. These auxiliary lanes allow trucks to come to a stop and then to cross and clear the tracks without conflicting with other traffic. Hence, they minimize the likelihood of rear-end collisions or other vehicle-vehicle collisions. They would be appropriate for two-lane highways or for high-speed multilane highways.

2. Long and Heavily Laden Trucks

As discussed in Chapter II, large trucks have particular problems at crossings because of their length and performance characteristics. Longer clearance times are required for longer vehicles and those slow to accelerate. Also, longer braking distances become necessary when trucks are heavily laden, thus reducing their effective braking capability.

As truck sizes, configurations, and weights have increased over time, it is critical to address currently allowable large vehicles (such as the interstate semitrailer truck—WB-62 or WB-65), where such vehicles may be expected to utilize a highway-rail grade crossing on a regular basis. Consequently, when considering improvements, the designer should be aware of and design for the amount and type of current and expected truck traffic. Areas that should be focused upon include:

•    Longer sight distances.

•    Placement of advance warning signs.

•    Warning time for signals.

•    Approach and departure grades.

•    Storage area between tracks and nearby highway intersection.

3. Buses

Because buses carry many passengers and have performance characteristics similar to large trucks, these vehicles also need special consideration. Many of the measures suggested for trucks with hazardous material apply to buses. Railroad-highway grade crossings should be taken into consideration when planning school bus routes.

Potentially hazardous crossings, such as those with limited sight distance or horizontal or vertical alignment issues, should be avoided if possible. Crossings along school bus routes should be evaluated by the appropriate highway and railroad personnel to identify potentially dangerous crossings and the need for improvements. Drivers should be instructed on safe crossing procedures and should be made aware of expected railroad operations, such as the speed and frequency of train movements.

4. Motorcycles and Bicycles

Although motorcycles and bicycles typically travel at different speeds, these two-wheeled vehicles can experience the same problem at crossings. Depending on the angle and type of crossing, a cyclist may lose control of the vehicle if the wheel becomes trapped in the flangeway. The surface materials and the flangeway width and depth must be evaluated. The more the crossing deviates from the ideal 90-degree crossing, the greater the potential for a cycle wheel to be trapped in the flangeway. If the crossing angle is less than 45 degrees, consideration should be given to widening the bikeway to allow sufficient width to cross the tracks at a safer angle.

Other than smooth surface treatments, there are no special controls for these special vehicles. However, if a bicycle trail crosses tracks at grade, the bicyclist should be warned of this with suitable markings and signs, such as those shown in Figure 81.

Figure 81. Recommended Sign and Marking Treatment for Bicycle Crossing

Figure 81. Recommended Sign and Marking Treatment for Bicycle Crossing. This diagram shows RXR pavement markings for bicycles positioned between a stop bar 15' from the track, not less than 50' from the stop bar and 50' from the RXR road sign.

Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1986.

Pedestrians. The safety of pedestrians crossing railroads is the most difficult to control because of the relative ease with which pedestrians can go under or around lowered gates. Pedestrians typically seek the shortest path and, therefore, may not always cross the tracks at the highway or designated pedestrian crossing.

Because of the variety of factors that may contribute to pedestrian hazards, detailed studies are necessary to determine the most effective measures to provide for pedestrian safety at specific locations.

A variety of preventive measures can be employed. (Refer also to Chapter IX, Part C, “Light-Rail Transit” for safety measures identified in reports issued by TCRP.) As of the preparation of this handbook, the Railroad Technical Committee of NCUTCD has established a pedestrian task force charged with expanding the provisions for pedestrian traffic control devices.

Fencing. Fencing that encloses the right of way may be used to restrict access. A 6- to 8-foot-high chain link fencing, sometimes topped with barbed wire, is commonly used. Fencing is usually placed on both sides of the right of way, but it can be an effective deterrent to indiscriminate crossing if placed on only one side. The main objection to fencing is its cost, which may be in excess of $100,000 per mile for construction. Furthermore, it does not bar entrances at crossings. Alternatively, a single 4-foot fence, placed parallel to the track and across a pedestrian crossing route, might be a lower-priced and somewhat effective deterrent. Fencing is commonly used between multiple tracks at commuter stations. Maintenance is an additional cost.

Separated crossings. To prevent vandalism of continuous fencing, pedestrian crossings might be provided over or under the track(s) at reasonable intervals. Pedestrian grade separations are expensive and should be designed to maximize pedestrian use. If a structure is built, it should be accessible, and pedestrians should be directed to it through the use of barriers, fencing, or signs.

Improved signing. An example whereby pedestrian and trespasser safety near railroads can be enhanced through improved signing concerns electrified rail lines, in particular, their catenaries (the overhead wires used to carry energy to electric locomotives). The electrical current is so great that shocks can result without actual contact with the wire. Warning signs along electrified railroads can reduce collisions. These signs should provide both symbolic representation (such as a lightning bolt) and the warning legend.

Safety education. The education of actual and potential trespassers can reduce the incidence of right-of-way collisions. Individual railroads as well as the Association of American Railroads and Operation Lifesaver have conducted active railroad safety programs for many years through schools.

Surveillance and enforcement. No form of pedestrian safety program can be effective without some level of surveillance and enforcement. At present, trespassing is generally considered a misdemeanor, and law enforcement officials are often indisposed to prosecute. A more effective procedure for some forms of railroad trespassing would be to treat it like jaywalking and issue a citation with automatic imposition of a fine if a hearing were waived. Such a procedure would impose some burden on the trespasser who otherwise might only be reprimanded.

ADA. ADA (1990) gives civil rights protections to individuals with disabilities similar to those provided to individuals on the basis of race, color, sex, national origin, age, and religion. It guarantees equal opportunity for individuals with disabilities in public accommodations, employment, transportation, state and local government services, and telecommunications.

ADA standards for accessible design were published as Appendix A to the Title III regulations by the U.S. Department of Justice (28 CFR Part 36, revised July 1, 1994). These standards address many geometric features pertaining to pedestrian facilities, including:

•     Minimum widths and clearances.

•     Accessible routes and pedestrian pathways.

•     Curb ramps and ramps.

•     Protruding objects.

These standards are available from the ADA home page on the Department of Justice Website.133

F. Low-Cost Active Devices

A recent study considered the applicability of lower-cost alternative technologies to provide active warning at crossings that presently lack such devices.134 The research identifies the component costs for traditional active grade crossing systems and explains what influences these costs. Alternative practices and technologies are discussed from national and international perspectives to explain the limitations and possibilities of implementing lower-cost active grade crossing systems in the United States. An array of pertinent assessment criteria for low-cost active grade crossing systems was developed to assess the relative merits of each technology. The criteria were incorporated into a decision-making framework and evaluation tool that helped assess the appropriateness of these systems for further evaluation.

The report notes that technological advances over the past decade suggest that there has to be a low-cost way to signalize some of the thousands of passive grade crossings that exist in the United States and notes that redundancy and fail-safe elements may comprise 25 to 35 percent of the total system cost.

The study evaluated 12 technologies, including:

•    Geophone.

•    Fiber optic (rail).

•    Fiber optic (buried).

•    Video imagery.

•    Radar (speed).

•    Radar (speed and distance).

•    Acoustic.

•    Pressure sensor.

•    Magnetic anomaly.

•    Infrared.

•    Laser.

These technologies were ranked by applying a set of evaluation criteria to a multi-criteria analysis process that assessed the relative merits of each low-cost warning device, including factors ranging from safety-related measures to measures of reliability, maintainability, and ease of installation. This analysis used a hierarchical formulation of broadly defined project goals tied to specific objectives, with each objective quantified by a performance measure, to add consistency and structure to the selection of favorable alternatives.

Evaluation criteria included:

•    Enhanced safety.

•    Reduced system cost.

•    Reliability.

•    Installability.

•    Maintainability.

•    Compatibility.

Identified cost groupings included:

•    Ultra-low cost: less than $2,000.

•    Low cost: $2,000–$8,000.

•    Moderate cost: greater than $8,000.

To prevent the emphasis from being placed strictly on seeking the lowest-cost active warning systems, the analysis grouped similarly priced systems to evaluate their merits relative to other important features. Results from the analysis indicated that future research should focus on improving the safety of the acoustic and radar off-right-of-way systems. Specifically, it was recommended that they should be evaluated for consistency of performance and the potential to calibrate them to operate with minimal risk exposure. It was also concluded that the risks associated with implementing acoustic and radar systems should be quantified so that the net benefit of increasing the number of active warning systems through the use of these technologies can be determined.

The final report for the analysis documents all aspects of the evaluation, including the use of a multi-criteria analysis framework, and also discusses trade-offs between reliability, cost, and safety reduction, which are inherent to deployment of low-cost technologies. At the time this handbook went to press, work was underway on the installation of prototype devices for the purpose of field evaluation.

G. ITS Applications

ITS has some applications at railroad crossings that affect traffic signal preemption. Under normal operating conditions, the train has the right of way at crossings, and the crossings are managed to maximize safety while minimizing delay to roadway traffic. This involves the coordination of railroad active safety devices with highway traffic signals as well as the dissemination of crossing status information to aid in route planning.

1. ITS National Architecture and User Service 30

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in conjunction with FRA, has developed “User Service 30” to describe the ITS applications that relate to the highway-rail grade crossing. These ITS applications have been defined in the National ITS Architecture, which is a framework for developing integrated transportation systems. The National ITS Architecture defines a set of “subsystems,” “terminators,” and “architecture flows” that describe the transfer of information between ITS systems.

Subsystems are the building blocks of the National ITS Architecture that perform the ITS functions identified in 33 user services (which include the highway-rail grade crossing user service). Terminators are systems that interface with the ITS systems. Architecture flows are the definition of the information that is passed between subsystems or between subsystems and terminators. In the context of the National ITS Architecture, highway-rail grade crossing functions are identified with three interfaces:

•    Roadway subsystem and the wayside equipment terminator.

•    Traffic management subsystem (TMS) and the rail operations terminator.

•    Highway-rail intersection data, traffic management to roadway.

Roadway subsystem and the wayside equipment terminator. The roadway subsystem represents ITS field equipment, including traffic signal controllers. The wayside equipment terminator represents train interface equipment (usually) maintained and operated by the railroad and (usually) physically located at or near a grade crossing. The roadway subsystem interface with the railroad wayside equipment will provide crossing status and blockage notification to wayside equipment and, conversely, real-time information about the approach (actual or predicted) of a train to the roadway subsystem. The interface operates as follows:

•    The roadway subsystem sends the real-time crossing status to the wayside equipment. This includes a confirmation that the grade crossing is closed (gates are down) and that trains may proceed at full authorized speed.

•    The roadway subsystem also sends a realtime indication of intersection blockage. This message would be used to provide the information needed by the wayside equipment to alert the train to reduce speed or stop.

•    The wayside equipment provides a real-time indication of its operational status via the track status flow. This would alert the roadside equipment to possible failures or problems in the wayside equipment. The track status flow also includes the simple binary indication of a train approaching, which is currently used when traffic signal controller units are interconnected with the wayside equipment.

•    In future implementations, the wayside equipment would provide expected time of arrival and length of closure via an arriving train information flow.

TMS and the rail operations terminator. The interface between the rail operations terminator and TMS provides for the exchange of management or near real-time data between these two key functions.

•    The rail operations function will send information to the TMS to support forecasting of crossing closures. This includes train schedules and crossing maintenance schedules. In addition, the rail operations function will send to the TMS information about rail incidents that may impact vehicle traffic. This latter information would be in near real time; other schedule information would be provided on a periodic basis (such as daily).

•    The TMS would notify the rail operations function in near real time about equipment failure, intersection blockage, or other incident

information (such as a nearby hazardous material spill). The TMS would also send information about planned maintenance activities occurring at or near the crossing that would impact the railroad right of way.

Roadway subsystem and TMS. The addition of highway-rail intersection (HRI) functions to the National ITS Architecture added several communications flows between the roadway subsystem and the TMS.

•    The roadway subsystem determines the status of the crossing and transmits this to the TMS. This status includes several components: information about the crossing itself; information about the traffic in the neighborhood of the crossing; information about the expected closure time and duration (obtained from the wayside equipment); and information that should be displayed via variable message signing or beacons (for in-vehicle signing). In addition, an intersection blockage notification flow is included to provide an indication if a blockage at the crossing exists.

•    The TMS will communicate with the roadway subsystem with two types of crossing-related messages: control messages (the HRI control data flow) sent directly to the crossing equipment (such as the intelligent intersection controller, variable message signing, etc.), and a status request flow (the HRI request flow). The HRI control data flow can also include rail advisory information obtained from the rail operations terminator and forwarded by the TMS.135

2. Standard 1570

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) empanelled a working group that developed IEEE Standard 1570, “Standard for the Interface Between the Rail Subsystem and the Highway Subsystem at a Highway Rail Intersection.” This standard was developed to coordinate information transfer between the two with emphasis on digital data communication and to enable interoperability among the various types of equipment. A high-level diagram of this interface is shown in Figure 82.

3. Survey of Recent ITS Initiatives

To increase awareness and research efforts in the area of highway-rail grade crossing safety, FRA tasked the John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center to review past projects with similar goals and conduct a demonstration program that will utilize aspects of both ITS and positive train control at an HRI to increase the safety of the crossing.

The majority of the first part of the effort in the survey consisted of a literature search for relevant past projects that used portions of either ITS or positive train control capabilities. Several of these projects have continued operating and are providing beneficial safety aspects. Variable message signs are the primary enabling technology of many of the projects reviewed and continue to be used with great success. In-vehicle warning systems have played a much more limited role due to the use of technologies that have not been standardized and, for the most part, these systems have been dismantled.

Selected initiatives are described below.

Minnesota in-vehicle warning system. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company (3M), and Dynamic Vehicle Safety Systems (DVSS) developed and demonstrated an in-vehicle warning system. The system was designed to alert drivers of potentially dangerous highway-rail grade crossing situations. Due to the finite number of vehicles and drivers, school buses were chosen as the test vehicle group.

Five highway-rail grade crossings were equipped with warning transmitters, and 29 school buses were equipped with receivers. The transmitters continuously broadcast a radio signal via antenna. The warning device broadcast the presence of the train when the train activated the conventional highway-rail grade crossing safety feature. Vehicles in the vicinity automatically were informed of their distance to the crossing and whether or not a train was present. Four of the five crossings were also capable of broadcasting the direction the train was traveling.

The warning was displayed to the driver both audibly and visually. The audio signal output automatically adjusted in relation to the ambient noise in the vehicle to help guarantee the driver was alerted. The system was also designed only to activate and alert when the direction of the vehicle would take it through the crossing.

Figure 82. Highway Rail Intersection Interface Overview

Figure 82. Highway Rail Intersection Interface Overview. This diagram shows a Railroad System with the train interacting with track circuits, wayside equipment terminator, automatic gates/barriers which interfaces with the Roadway System via the HRI Interface. The Roadway System shows a car interacting with short range communications, surveillance, variable message signs, traffic signs and the advanced transportation controller. The Traffic Managment System and Rail Operations Terminator are also interacting with these systems.

Source: “The National Architecture for ITS,” U.S. Department of Transportation.

The system used a traditional two-quadrant gate system with track circuitry for train detection. Radio transmitters were fixed to the crossbucks to provide the warning to the in-vehicle system. Within the vehicle, a unique type of in-vehicle display (shown in Figure 83) was developed to provide the warning to the driver. The in-vehicle equipment also consisted of a device to receive the radio transmissions from the crossbuck-mounted transmitter.

Because the system was installed on a small sampling of crossings and buses and because the test period was short, no significant statistical difference could be calculated to indicate the impact of the in-vehicle warning system on driver behavior. The primary determination of the effectiveness of the system was the behavioral characteristics of the bus drivers and their own opinions culled from surveys. Locomotive engineers were also queried as to the effectiveness of the system.

There was a general acceptance and perception of value by drivers and railroad personnel. The drivers also favored the crossings that were capable of broadcasting the train direction. The majority of drivers felt the system should be installed permanently.

Figure 83. In-Vehicle Display

Figure 83. In-Vehicle Display. This is an image of a car interior instrument panel with a railroad crossing alert light illuminated.

Source: Minnesota Department of Transportation.

Upon completion of the evaluation, all components, including in-vehicle devices and trackside components, were removed from service. Currently, there is no plan to resume operation of this system.

Long Island Railroad second-train changeable message sign. In an effort to improve safety, the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) installed second-train changeable message signs (CMS) at the Stewart Avenue highway-rail grade crossing along the LIRR mainline in Bethpage, New York. The system became operational in November 2002 with the primary intent of improving pedestrian awareness and safety. The Stewart Avenue highway-rail grade crossing is listed as one of the 10 most dangerous crossings in the state of New York, having witnessed multiple fatalities, one as recent as 1999, and many pedestrian incidents.

The system LIRR chose for this application incorporates text and graphic CMS with audible warnings and strobe lights. The audible warning consists of a voice broadcast via public announcement speakers mounted adjacent to the CMS, audibly repeating the message shown in text on the CMS. All of the warning devices are mounted on custom cantilever support arms that had to be designed and installed specifically for this application at all four quadrants of the highway-rail grade crossing.

In addition to the warning devices, LIRR installed event recorders that connect to the central office at the Stewart Avenue highway-rail grade crossing as part of the new central monitoring system. Currently, the system is not designed for fail-safe operation. The system allows LIRR to determine if activation from the track circuitry was received; however, LIRR currently has no way of determining if the system is functioning correctly or functioning at all. LIRR is considering implementing video surveillance to enhance the system.

Evaluation of the LIRR second-train warning system has not been conducted and no true data have been collected to determine the effect of the system on safety of the Stewart Avenue highway-rail grade crossing. One issue that has been discussed is pedestrian confusion as a result of the CMS not being activated. Currently, the system is activated only during a second-train event. Crossing users can misinterpret non-activation of the system during single-train arrival events to mean that it is safe to circumvent the deployed gates. This has not caused any collisions, but further assessment of the situation is required.

The only maintenance cost associated with the system is periodic testing, which is currently performed monthly in addition to the scheduled crossing maintenance.

Alameda Corridor-East integrated roadway/ rail interface system. As part of a larger grade crossing improvement program, the Alameda Corridor-East Jump Start Safety Improvements Program, the integrated roadway/rail interface system (IR/RIS) is being installed on several HRIs within this corridor. The corridor encompasses a distance of 35 miles through the San Gabriel Valley between East Los Angeles and Pomona, California. The Jump Start Program itself is targeting 34 crossings in this area for improvement in safety. These improvements will help eliminate gate drive-arounds, improve pedestrian crossings, and improve warning lights and traffic signals.

The IR/RIS system is focusing on reducing both traffic delays and large queues, which build up near the highway-rail grade crossings. It is also hoped that driver frustration due to delays will be reduced. The demonstration project is located in the Pomona area, which experiences traffic delays due to high rail traffic that sometimes consists of long through freight trains, some of which pause at times at the highway-rail grade crossings. There is also commuter rail traffic at peak times, which occurs simultaneously with peak automobile traffic, causing further congestion.

The demonstration project will detect trains 5 miles from the crossings and predict their arrival at the highway-rail grade crossings. This information will be used to determine if traffic signals in the area should be adjusted. There will also be CMS in the area that can inform motorists and pedestrians of the situation. Rerouting of traffic may also take place because three grade-separated crossings are located in the area and will allow for alternative routes.

Because the existing train detection subsystem is not adequate for the prediction of train arrival times, a new system will be installed independent of the existing system. The new system will use magnetometers.

Initial testing of the system has been successful and has proven the accuracy of train detection, speed, and length. Full demonstration testing will continue.

Minnesota low-cost active warning for low-volume HRI warning project. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, Twin Cities and Western Railroad, C3 Trans Systems Limited Liability Company, and SRF Consulting Group Incorporated, along with FRA and FHWA, have teamed to develop and test a low-cost active warning system for low-volume highway-rail grade crossings as an alternative to traditional and expensive active highway-rail grade crossing warning devices. The main objectives of the project are to determine whether the low-cost active train warning system can improve safety and function as well as traditional railroad grade crossing signals. The project is also looking to determine whether the low-cost system’s addition of flashers or CMS on advance rail warning signs provides additional benefits. The project goal is to have a system cost that is approximately 10 percent of traditional grade crossing warning systems.

This ITS system consists of the addition of solar panel battery-powered light-emitting diode flashers to traditional highway-rail grade crossing crossbuck signs and solar panel battery-powered amber flashers to traditional advanced warning signs. Activation of the flashers is provided by low-power radio communications from approaching locomotives. Power is supplied via a battery bank that has integrated solar panels. An in-cab display notifies the locomotive engineer of the warning device status.

There is built-in logic with a self-update capability and fault reporting. In the event that a failure does occur, within 5 minutes of that failure, the system notifies the central office of the event via cellular telephone. The low-cost warning device also sends a signal via low-power radio communications link to the locomotive cab. Inside the cab, there is a display with a series of three lights: red, yellow, and green. This display will notify the locomotive crew of a failure in time to stop the train.

Active mode testing of the system using several locomotives and more than 30 equipped highway-rail grade crossings was completed in the summer of 2004. A final report for the project is available on the Minnesota Department of Transportation Website.136

4. Proposed Demonstration Scenarios

Based on the survey of past projects and pending development of technology such as dedicated short-range communication (DSRC), the Volpe Center has proposed to FRA several alternative demonstrations that could provide increased safety at highway-rail grade crossings.

One scenario involves the utilization of either a global positioning satellite (GPS)-based product or a wireless radio system to notify an approaching roadway vehicle operator that he or she is nearing a highway-rail grade crossing. The system would provide this advanced warning indication within the vehicle. Because most vehicles in the United States do not contain in-vehicle displays, such as those in Japan, the use of a personal digital assistant (PDA) device would seem more appropriate for the test. The option to use a vehicle with a built-in display could also be pursued because their availability is growing, although most are available in higher-cost vehicles.

Using wireless communications, a highway-rail grade crossing would be outfitted with a localized transmitter that broadcasts its presence to approaching vehicles. The vehicles will be outfitted with a PDA or other device that can receive the radio broadcast transmitted by the highway-rail grade crossing. Several options for communications are possible, with the latest DSRC 5.9GHz band protocol being the most promising. A new standard is being formulated for this protocol and includes specific channels for ITS safety applications. Another option is the 802.11b protocol known as Wi-Fi, but because it was not developed for moving objects, it would most likely require modification.

With the GPS-based approach, navigation software could be updated with the locations of all documented highway-rail grade crossings in the United States. Currently, several navigation products for PDAs could be used. Modifications of these products would probably be required because they do not contain the location of all highway-rail grade crossings. When the navigation software determines the vehicle approaching the highway-rail grade crossing, a warning will be issued through a visual and/or an aural alert.

Another option is to investigate the use of the Data Radio System (DRS) protocol. Many off-the-shelf in-dash radios today are capable of receiving DRS transmissions. These systems interrupt the AM/FM radio broadcast or CD/tape-playing features of the in-dash unit and display a message to the vehicle occupants. The feasibility of using a localized transmitter at a highway-rail grade crossing would need to be investigated.

The second scenario will utilize one or more CMS interfaced to a train control and/or detection system to provide advanced warning of a train(s) approaching motorists and pedestrians. Ideally, the train control system will be enabled with positive train control to allow for warnings of trains at all speeds. Using such an advanced technology would allow for multiple types of warnings, such as train approaching crossing, second train approaching, estimated delay time, etc. The system could be demonstrated with audio and text messaging. The capabilities would be limited by the information supplied by the train control system and/or the track circuits. Because not all railroad lines will be equipped with positive train control, new methods of train detection could provide accurate and reliable signals to warn of approaching trains. Alternative train detection equipment is another enabling technology that will assist in implementing some of the advanced ITS concepts.

Other ideas with potential applications at highway-rail grade crossings revolve around the use of video monitoring of highway-rail grade crossings where large volumes of hazardous cargo are transported through the area. In-cab video monitoring could also be used to relay blocked highway-rail grade crossings. Also, weather monitoring could become part of a highway rail-grade crossing system by transmitting weather conditions to passing trains, warning of potential washouts or fog conditions ahead.

Human factors analysis will play a role in any demonstration. How individuals react to the various warnings and messages will need to be analyzed during the demonstration and will provide useful feedback on the effectiveness of the system.137

H. References

Federal Highway Administration Survey of Region and Division Offices, unpublished, 1984.

Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2003 Edition. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration, 2003.

Rail-Highway Crossing Accident/Incident and Inventory Bulletin. Washington, DC: Federal Railroad Administration, published annually.

Railroad/Highway Grade Crossing Accidents Involving Trucks Transporting Bulk Hazardous Materials: A Special Study. Washington, DC: National Transportation Safety Board, Report NTSB-HZM-81-2, September 1981.

Railroad-Highway Safety, Part II: Recommendations for Resolving the Problem, A Report to Congress. Washington, DC: U.S. Department or Transportation, August 1972.

Sonefeld, Otto F. “Crossing Costs Can Endanger New Short Line Viability.” Railway Track and Structures, May 1983.


132 Korve, Hans W., Jose I. Farran, Douglas M. Mansel, et al. Integration of Light Rail Transit into City Streets. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research (TCRP) Report 17, Transportation Research Board (TRB), 1996.

133  U.S. Department of Justice Americans with Disabilities Act Website (www.usdoj.gov/crt/ada).

134  Roop, Stephen S., Craig E. Roco, Leslie E. Olson, and Richard A. Zimmer. An Analysis of Low-Cost Active Warning Devices For Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: Texas Transportation Institute, National Cooperative Highway Research Program, NAS 188 HR 3-76B, March 2005.

135 Preemption of Traffic Signals Near Railroad Crossings, Appendix D (ITS Applications). Washington, DC: Institute of Transportation Engineers, January 2004; along with User Service 30 information.

136 “Low-Cost Highway-Rail Intersection Active Warning System Field Operational Test Evaluation Report.” Minnesota Department of Transportation, Office of Traffic, Security and Operations. URS Corporation and TranSmart Technologies, Inc. December 2005 (www. dot.state.mn.us/guidestar/projects/hris.html).

137 “Review of Intelligent Transportation Systems Applications at Highway-Rail Intersections In The United States.”

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