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Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook - Revised Second Edition August 2007
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IV

Identification of Alternatives

Previous chapters presented methodologies for selecting and analyzing potentially hazardous highway-rail grade crossings. In this chapter, existing laws, rules, regulations, and policies are presented and alternative safety and operational improvements are discussed. These alternatives are presented by type: crossing elimination; installation of passive traffic control devices; installation of active traffic control devices; site improvements; crossing surface improvements; and removal of grade separations. From information contained in this chapter, the highway engineer should select several alternative improvement proposals for any particular crossing being studied. The “do-nothing” alternative should also be considered a proposal. Procedures for selecting among the various alternatives are presented in Chapter V, Selection of Alternatives.

A. Existing Laws, Rules, Regulations, and Policies

Current Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) regulations specifically prohibit at-grade intersections on highways with full access control (23 CFR Section 625 (4)). Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) rail safety regulations require that crossings be separated or closed where trains operate at speeds above 125 miles per hour (mph) (49 CFR 213.347(a)). Additionally, if train operation is projected at FRA track class 7 (111–125 mph), an application must be made to FRA for approval of the type of warning/barrier system. The regulation does not specify the type of system but allows the petitioner to propose a suitable system for FRA review.

In 1998, FRA issued an Order of Particular Applicability for high-speed rail service on the Northeast Corridor. In the order, FRA set a maximum operating speed of 80 mph over any highway-rail crossing where only conventional warning systems are in place and a maximum operating speed of 95 mph where four-quadrant gates and presence detection are provided and tied into the signal system. Grade crossings are prohibited on the Northeast Corridor if maximum operating speeds exceed 95 mph. Current statutory, regulatory, and federal policy requirements are summarized in Table 33.

Table 33. Federal Laws, Rules, Regulations, and Policies

Active

Warning/
barrier with
FRA approval

Grade
separate or
close

Controlled
access
highways

Not allowed

Not allowed

Required

High-speed rail

> 79 mph

111-125 mph

> 125 mph

* Note: 1 mph = 1.61 kilometers per hour

Source: Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration, Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, November 2002.

Not unlike the system specification that all highway-rail crossings on full control access highways be grade separated, it is only logical that certain rail systems should have similar status. In 1994, FRA defined a core railroad system of approximately 128,800 kilometers (80,000 miles) known as Principal Railroad Lines (PRLs). These lines have one or more of the following attributes: Amtrak service, defense essential, or annual freight volume exceeding 20 million gross tons. This core network was described in the U.S. Department of Transportation's (U.S. DOT) 1994 Action Plan to improve highway-rail grade crossing safety. The plan set forth a long-term goal of eliminating (grade separating or realigning) intersections of PRLs and highway routes on the National Highway System—defined as “an interconnected system of principal arterial routes to serve major population centers, intermodal transportation facilities and other major travel destinations; meet national defense requirements; and serve interstate and interregional travel.”72

B. Elimination

The first alternative that should always be considered for a highway-rail at-grade crossing is elimination. Elimination can be accomplished by grade separating the crossing, closing the crossing to highway traffic, or closing the crossing to railroad traffic through the abandonment or relocation of the rail line. Elimination of a crossing provides the highest level of crossing safety because the point of intersection between highway and railroad is removed. However, the effects of elimination on highway and railroad operations may be beneficial or adverse. The benefits of the elimination alternative are primarily safety and, perhaps, operational—offset by construction and operational costs.

Decisions regarding whether the crossing should be eliminated or otherwise improved through the installation of traffic control devices or site or surface improvements depend upon safety, operational, and cost considerations. However, the Federal-Aid Policy Guide (FAPG) does specify that “all crossings of railroads and highways at grade shall be eliminated where there is full control of access on the highway (a freeway) regardless of the volume of railroad or highway traffic.”73

The major benefits of crossing elimination include reductions in collisions, highway vehicle delay, rail traffic delay, and maintenance costs of crossing surfaces and traffic control devices.

Safety considerations include both train-involved collisions and non-train-involved collisions. Under the Federal Motor Carrier Safety regulations, all vehicles transporting passengers and trucks carrying many types of hazardous materials must stop prior to crossing tracks at a highway-rail grade crossing (49 CFR 392.10). In the event that following vehicles do not anticipate such stops and/or fail to maintain safe stopping distance, collisions may result. These conditions may be alleviated to some extent where the vehicles required to stop have a special lane at the crossing for such purpose. In addition, the presence of the crossing itself may cause non-train collisions. For example, when stopping suddenly to avoid a collision with an oncoming train, a driver may lose control of the vehicle and collide with a roadside object. Thus, these types of collisions would be avoided if an at-grade crossing were eliminated.

Four types of delay are imposed on highway traffic by crossings:

•    Trains occupying crossings—Highway traffic should slow down to look for trains, particularly at crossings with passive traffic control devices. Vehicles must stop and wait for a train to clear a crossing. Furthermore, there may be some delay to vehicles that arrive at a crossing before vehicles that were delayed by a train have cleared the crossing.

•    Special vehicles—Certain vehicles may be required to stop at all crossings. These include other commercial buses, passenger-carrying vehicles, and vehicles carrying hazardous materials. In addition to the delay incurred by these special vehicles, their stopping may also impose delay on following vehicles.

•    Crossing surface—In other words, if the surface can be traversed at only 15 mph, the time needed for a vehicle to slow down and cross should be taken into account.

•    Presence of crossing—This delay occurs regardless of whether a train is approaching or occupying the crossing. Motorists usually slow down in advance of crossings so that they can stop safely if a train is approaching. This is a required safe driving practice in conformance with the Uniform Vehicle Code, which states “…vehicles must stop within 15 to 50 feet from the crossing when a train is in such proximity so as to constitute an immediate hazard.”74 Therefore, the existence of a crossing may cause some delays to motorists who slow to look for a train.

Another benefit of crossing elimination is the alleviation of maintenance costs of surfaces and traffic control devices. As discussed in a later chapter on maintenance, these costs can be quite substantial for both highway agencies and railroads.

Costs of eliminating crossings depend on whether the crossing is merely closed to highway traffic, a grade separation is constructed, or the highway or railroad is relocated. These costs are discussed along with other considerations for each type of elimination alternative.

C. Grade Separation

The decision to grade separate a highway-rail crossing is primarily a matter of economics. Investment in a grade-separation structure is long-term and impacts many users. Such decisions should be based on long-term, fully allocated life-cycle costs, including both highway and railroad user costs, rather than on initial construction costs. Such analysis should consider the following:

•    Eliminating train/vehicle collisions (including the resultant property damage and medical costs and liability).

•    Savings in highway-rail grade crossing surface and crossing signal installation and maintenance costs.

•    Driver delay cost savings.

•    Costs associated with providing increased highway storage capacity (to accommodate traffic backed up by a train).

•    Fuel and pollution mitigation cost savings (from idling queued vehicles).

•    Effects of any “spillover” congestion on the rest of the roadway system.

•    Benefits of improved emergency access.

•    Potential for closing one or more additional adjacent crossings.

•    Possible train derailment costs.

Specific recommendations for grade separation are contained in the FHWA Technical Working Group report in Chapter V.

A recently released report entitled Grade Separations—When Do We Separate provides a stepwise procedure for evaluating the grade-separation decision.75 The report also contains a rough screening method based on train and roadway vehicular volumes. However, as pointed out in the report, the screening method should be used with caution and should be calibrated for values appropriate for the particular jurisdiction.

Recent publications include a methodology reflecting safety and economic factors applied in Israel;76 a grade-separation policy for light-rail train crossings with specific highway operational, safety, and rail transit operational criteria adopted by the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority;77 a methodology applied in central Arkansas that considered use of seven quantitative factors: noise, community cohesion, delay, accessibility, connectivity, geographic distribution, and safety;78 and a methodology by Nichelson and Reed presented at the 2001 National Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Conference.79

D. Highway and Railroad Relocation

Other alternatives to highway-rail grade crossing problems are relocation of the highway or railroad or railroad consolidation. These alternatives provide a solution to other railroad impacts on communities; however, the costs associated with relocation or consolidation can be quite high.

Railroads provide advantages and disadvantages to communities. They generate employment opportunities for local citizens, provide transportation services to local industries and businesses, and are a source of tax revenue to government agencies. The presence of railroads in communities can impose some disadvantages, such as vehicular delay and safety concerns at highway-rail grade crossings. In addition, the presence of railroads may impose noise and other environmental concerns upon the community. Railroad relocation to the outer limits of the community may be a viable alternative for alleviating these concerns while retaining the advantages of having railroad service. Relocation generally involves the complete rebuilding of railroad facilities. This not only requires track construction but also acquisition of right of way and construction of drainage structures, signals, communications, crossings and separations, station facilities, and utilities.

In some cases, consolidation of railroad lines into common corridors or joint operations over the same trackage may allow for the removal of some trackage through a community. Railroad consolidation may provide benefits similar to those of railroad relocation and, possibly, at lower costs.

Benefits of railroad relocation in addition to those associated with crossing safety and operations include: improved environment resulting from decreased noise and air pollution; improved land use and appearance; and improved railroad efficiency. Railroad relocation and consolidation may also provide for the elimination of obstructions to emergency vehicles and the safer movement of hazardous materials. Collectively, the tangible and intangible benefits may justify the relocation or consolidation of railroad facilities; any one of the benefits alone might not provide sufficient justification for the expense.

Many factors must be considered in planning for railroad relocation. The new location should provide good alignment, minimum grades, and adequate drainage. Sufficient right of way should be available to provide the necessary horizontal clearances, additional rail facilities as service grows, and a buffer for abating noise and vibrations. The number of crossings should be minimized.

The railroad corridor can be further isolated from residential and commercial activity by zoning the property adjacent to the railroad as light and heavy industrial. Businesses and industry desiring rail service can locate in this area.

To accomplish a rail relocation or consolidation project, a partnership is required among the federal government (if federal funds are involved), state and local government agencies, the railroad, and the community. Although the purpose of the project may be only to eliminate physical conflicts between the highway user and the railroad, the partnership developed for this project provides an atmosphere of cooperative working relationships that continues into the future.

Highway relocations are sometimes accomplished to provide improved highway traffic flow around communities and other developed areas. Planning for highway relocations should consider routes that would eliminate at-grade crossings by avoiding the need for access over railroad trackage or by providing grade separations.

E. Closure

Closure of a highway-rail grade crossing to highway traffic should always be considered as an alternative. Numerous crossings were built when railroads first began operating. Safety was not a serious concern because horse-drawn carriages could easily stop and train speeds were low.

Closure of at-grade crossings is normally accomplished by closing the highway. The number of crossings needed to carry highway traffic over a railroad in a community is influenced by many characteristics of the community itself. A study of highway traffic flow should be conducted to determine origin and destination points and needed highway capacity. Thus, optimum routes over railroads can be determined. Highway operation over several crossings may be consolidated to move over a nearby crossing with flashing lights and gates or over a nearby grade separation. Alternative routes should be within a reasonable travel time and distance from a closed crossing. The alternate routes should have sufficient capacity to accommodate the diverted traffic safely and efficiently.

Eliminating redundant and unneeded crossings should be a high priority. Barring highway or railroad system requirements that require crossing elimination, the decision to close or consolidate crossings requires balancing public necessity, convenience, and safety. The crossing closure decision should be based on economics—comparing the cost of retaining the crossing (maintenance, collisions, and cost to improve the crossing to an acceptable level if it remains, etc.) against the cost (if any) of providing alternate access and any adverse travel costs incurred by users having to cross at some other location. Because this can be a local political and emotional issue, the economics of the situation cannot be ignored. This subject is addressed in a 1994 joint FRA/FHWA publication entitled Highway-Railroad Grade Crossings: A Guide To Crossing Consolidation and Closure and a March 1995 publication of the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Highway-Rail Crossing Elimination and Consolidation.

Whenever a crossing is closed, it is important to consider whether the diversion of highway traffic may be sufficient to change the type or level of traffic control needed at other crossings. The surrounding street system should be examined to assess the effects of diverted traffic. Often, coupling a closure with the installation of improved or upgraded traffic control devices at one or more adjacent crossings can be an effective means of mitigating local political resistance to the closure.80

There are several stumbling blocks to successful closure, such as negative community attitudes, funding problems, and the lack of forceful state laws authorizing closure or the reluctant utilization of state laws that permit closure.

Legislation that authorizes a state agency to close crossings greatly facilitates the implementation of closures. These state agencies should utilize their authority to close crossings whenever possible. Often, a state agency can accomplish closure where local efforts fail due to citizen biases and fear of losing access across the railroad. Local opposition sometimes may be overcome through emphasizing the benefits resulting from closure, such as improved traffic flow and safety as traffic is redirected to grade separations or crossings with active traffic control devices. Railroads often support closure not only because of safety concerns but also because maintenance costs associated with the crossing are eliminated. A list of who is responsible for closing public crossings in each state is shown in Table 34. Appendix H presents a more detailed state-by-state summary of the procedures for grade crossing elimination.

Achieving consensus among state transportation divisions, boards, review committees, railroads, municipalities, and the public is integral to the closure process. Closure criteria vary by locality but typically include train and roadway traffic volume, speed of trains, number of tracks, material being carried, crossing location, visibility, distance to traffic signals, and number of crashes. More than four crossings per mile with fewer than 2,000 vehicles per day and more than two trains per day are prime candidates for closure.81

To assist in the identification of crossings that may be closed, the systems approach might be utilized, as discussed in Chapter III. With this method, several crossings in a community or rail corridor are improved by the installation of traffic control devices; other crossings are closed. This is accomplished following a study of traffic flows in the area to assure continuing access across the railroad. Traffic flows are sometimes improved by the installation of more sophisticated traffic control systems at the remaining crossings and, perhaps, the construction of a grade separation at one of the remaining crossings.

Table 34. Responsibility for Closing Public Crossings

State agency

Regulatory commission

Local jurisdiction

No code or
authority

specifically

mentioned

Alabama*

Arizona

Alabama*

Alaska

Delaware

Arkansas

Illinois

Hawaii

District of Columbia

California

Iowa*

New Jersey

Florida

Colorado

Louisiana*

New Mexico

Georgia

Connecticut

Nebraska

Idaho

Kansas*

Ohio

Indiana

Minnesota

Texas*

Iowa*

Mississippi

Kansas*

Montana

Kentucky

Nevada

Louisiana*

New Hampshire

Maine

New York

Maryland

North Dakota

Massachusetts

Oklahoma

Michigan

Pennsylvania

Missouri

Rhode Island

Nebraska

South Carolina

North Carolina

Tennessee*

Oregon

Texas*

South Dakota

Vermont

Tennessee*

Virginia

Utah

Washington

Wisconsin

West Virginia

Wyoming

* Shares responsibility with other state organization.

Source: From Transportation Research Board 82nd Annual Meeting Compendium of Papers CD-ROM, January 12–16, 2003, Transportation Research Board of the National Academies, Washington, DC. Reprinted with permission.

Another important matter to consider in connection with crossing closure is access over the railroad by emergency vehicles, ambulances, fire trucks, and police. Crossings frequently utilized by emergency vehicles should not be closed. On the contrary, these crossings should be candidates for grade separations or the installation of active traffic control devices. Specific criteria to identify crossings that should be closed are difficult to establish because of the numerous and various factors that should be considered. The Traffic Control Devices Handbook suggests criteria that may be used for crossing closure. It is important that these criteria not be used without professional, objective, engineering, and economic assessment of the positive and negative impacts of crossing closures.

Criteria for crossings on branch lines include:

•    Less than 2,000 average daily traffic (ADT).

•    More than two trains per day.

•    Alternate crossing within 0.25 mile that has less than 5,000 ADT if two lanes or less than 15,000 ADT if four lanes.

Criteria for crossings on spur tracks include:

•    Less than 2,000 ADT.

•    More than 15 trains per day.

•    Alternate crossing within 0.25 mile that has less than 5,000 ADT if two lanes or less than 15,000 ADT if four lanes.

Criteria for crossing on mainline:

•    Any mainline section with more than five crossings within a 1-mile segment.

The guidance document developed by the U.S. DOT Technical Working Group provides specific criteria for screening of crossings for closure applicable to mainline trackage (see Chapter V). When a crossing is permanently closed to highway traffic, the existing crossing should be obliterated by removing the crossing surface pavement markings and all traffic control devices both at the crossing and approaching the crossing.

Generally, the railroad is responsible for removing the crossing surface and traffic control devices located at the crossing, such as the crossbuck sign, flashing light signals, and gates.

The highway authority is responsible for removing traffic control devices in advance of and approaching the crossing, such as the advance warning signs and pavement markings. Nearby highway traffic signals that are interconnected with crossing signals located at the closed crossing should have their phasing and 600 timing readjusted.

The highway authority is also responsible to alert motorists that the crossing roadway is now closed. A Type III barricade, shown in Figure 10, may be erected. If used, this barricade shall meet the design criteria of Section 6F.63 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), except the colors of the stripes shall be reflectorized white and reflectorized red. Characteristics of a Type III barricade are provided in Figure 10.

Figure 10 . Type II I Barricade*

Figure 10. Type II I Barricade. A diagram showing three parallel bars with diagonal orange and white stripes and a signal light on the left on the top bar. The diagram indicates a height of 1.5m, width of 1.2 m and 200 to 300mm to the bottom of the middle bar from the bottom, and to the top of the middle bar from the the top.

* Rail stripe widths shall be 150 millimeters (mm) (6 inches (in.)), except that 100-mm (4-in.) wide stripes may be used if rail lengths are less than 900 mm (36 in). The sides of barricades facing traffic shall have retroreflective rail faces.

Note: If barricades are used to channelize pedestrians, there shall be continuous detectable bottom and top rails with no gaps between individual barricades to be detectable to users of long canes. The bottom of the bottom rail shall be no higher than 150 mm (6 in.) above the ground surface. The top of the top rail shall be no lower than 900 mm (36 in.) above the ground surface.

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

Warning and regulatory signing in accordance with M UTCD should be installed to alert motorists that the crossing roadway is now closed. These signs include the “Road Closed” sign (R11-2), “Local Traffic Only” sign (R11-3, R11-4), and appropriate advance warning signs as applicable to the specific crossing.

Consideration should also be given to advising motorists of alternate routes across the railroad. If trucks use the crossing being closed, they should be given advance information about the closure at points where they can conveniently alter their route.

1. Closure Programs

One grade crossing closure initiative was established by the Burlington Northern and Santa Fe Railway Company (BNSF) in 2000. This initiative is part of BNSF's grade crossing safety program, which has the goal of reducing grade crossing collisions, injuries, and fatalities. The grade crossing safety program also includes community education, enhanced crossing technology, crossing resurfacing, vegetation control, installation of warning devices, and track and signal inspection and maintenance. In March 2006, BNSF closed its 3,000th highway-rail grade crossing since the beginning of its grade crossing closure initiative. By eliminating unnecessary and redundant crossings, BNSF has made an important contribution to community safety while also improving the efficiency and safety of its rail operation. There are three key elements of BNSF's grade crossing closure initiative:

•     A closure team was assembled, bringing together field safety and the public projects group in engineering.

•     Closure candidates were identified by division engineering and transportation personnel.

•    A closure database was developed to track progress.

Another example of a closure program is the effort begun by the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) in 1993. North Carolina recorded its 100th crossing closure in 2004.82 NCDOT criteria consider:

•    Crossings within one-quarter-mile of one another that are part of the same highway or street network.

•    Crossings where vehicular traffic can be safely and efficiently redirected to an adjacent crossing.

•    Crossings where a high number of crashes have occurred.

•    Crossings with reduced sight distance because of the angle of the intersection, curve of the track, trees, undergrowth, or man-made obstructions.

•    Adjacent crossings where one is replaced with a bridge or upgraded with new signaling devices.

•    Several adjacent crossings when a new one is being built.

•    Complex crossings where it is difficult to provide adequate warning devices or that have severe operating problems, such as multiple tracks, extensive railroad-switching operations, or long periods of blocked crossings.

•    Private crossings for which no responsible owner can be identified.

•    Private crossings where the owner is unable or unwilling to fund improvements and where alternate access to the other side of the tracks is reasonably available.

NCDOT considers the following factors in deciding whether to close or improve a crossing:

•    Collision history.

•    Vehicle and train traffic (present and projected).

•    Type of roadway (thoroughfare, collector, local access, truck route, school bus route, or designated emergency route).

•    Economic impact of closing the crossing.

•    Alternative roadway access.

•    Type of property being served (residential, commercial, or industrial).

•    Potential for bridging by overpass or underpass.

•    Need for enhanced warning devices (four-quadrant gates, longer arm gates, or median barriers).

•    Feasibility for roadway improvements.

•    Crossing condition (geometry, sight distance, and crossing surface).

•    Available federal, state, and/or local funding.

Closure implementation strategies used by NCDOT include:

•    Constructing a connector road or improving roadways along alternate routes to direct traffic to an adjacent crossing.

•    Dead-ending affected streets and rerouting traffic, creating cul-de-sacs.

•    Constructing bridges.

•    Relocating or consolidating railroad operations.

2. Crossing Consolidation and Safety Programs

A highly effective approach to improving safety involves the development of a program of treatments, including safety improvements, grade separations, and crossing closures, to eliminate significant numbers of crossings within a specified section of rail line while improving those that remain at grade. Both FRA and AASHTO have provided guidelines for crossing consolidation. State departments of transportation, road authorities, and local governments may choose to develop their own criteria for closures based on local conditions. Whatever the case, a specific criterion or approach should be used to avoid arbitrarily selecting crossings for closure. Examples include the previously noted NCDOT consolidation effort as well as the Alameda Corridor– East project in southern California, which was developed as a result of a grade crossing corridor study.83

To improve crossing safety and provide a comprehensive approach to crossing consolidation, the traffic separation study approach is a worthwhile option. As part of a comprehensive evaluation of traffic patterns and road usage for an entire municipality or region, traffic separation studies determine the need for improvements and/or elimination of public highway-rail grade crossings based on specific criteria. Traffic separation studies progress in three phases: preliminary planning, study, and implementation.

Crossing information is collected at all public crossings in the municipality. Evaluation criteria include collision history; current and projected vehicular and train traffic; crossing condition; school bus and emergency routes; types of traffic control devices; feasibility for improvements; and economic impact of crossing closures. After discussions with the local road authority, railroad, state department of transportation, municipal staff, and local officials, these recommendations may be modified. Reaching a consensus is essential prior to scheduling presentations to governing bodies and citizens.

Recommendations resulting from a traffic separation study may include installation of flashing lights and gates; enhanced devices such as four-quadrant gates and longer gate arms; installation of concrete or rubber crossings; median barrier installation; pavement markings; roadway approach modifications; crossing or roadway realignments; crossing closures and/or relocation of existing crossings to safer locations; connector roads; and feasibility studies to evaluate potential grade-separation locations.

A key element of a traffic separation study is the inclusion of a public involvement element, including crossing safety workshops and public hearings. The goal of these forums is to exchange information and convey the community benefits of enhanced crossing safety, including the potential consequences to neighborhoods of train derailments containing hazardous materials resulting from crossing collisions. Equating rail crossings to highway interchanges, something the average citizen can relate to, greatly assists in reinforcing the need for eliminating low-volume and/or redundant crossings.84

F. Abandoned Crossings

Highway-rail grade crossings on abandoned railroad lines present a different kind of safety and operational problem. Motorists who consistently drive over crossings that are not maintained but have traffic control devices and at which they never see a train may develop a careless attitude and not take appropriate caution. Motorist may maintain this attitude and behavior at crossings that have not been abandoned, perhaps resulting in a collision with a train. Thus, credibility of crossing traffic control devices may be reduced, not only for the abandoned crossing but for other crossings as well.

Operational problems exist for abandoned crossings where existing traffic control devices and/or tracks for the crossing have not been removed. A careful motorist will slow down in advance of every crossing, especially those with passive traffic control devices. If the track has been abandoned, unnecessary delays result, particularly for special vehicles required by federal and state laws to stop in advance of every crossing. These special vehicles include school buses, vehicles carrying passengers for hire, and vehicles transporting hazardous materials. In addition, these vehicles may be involved in vehicle-vehicle collisions because other motorists might not expect drivers of these vehicles to stop.

The desirable action for abandoned crossings is to remove all traffic control devices related to the crossing and remove or pave over the tracks. The difficulty is in identifying abandoned railroad lines. For example, a railroad may discontinue service over a line or a track with the possibility that another railroad, particularly a short-line railroad, may later purchase or lease the line to resume that service. These railroad lines are called inactive lines and, obviously, removing or paving over the track will add substantial cost in reactivating the service.

Another type of inactive rail line is one with seasonal service. For example, rail lines that serve grain elevators may only have trains during harvest season. The lack of use during the rest of the year may cause the same safety and operational problems described earlier.

The first step in addressing the problem of crossings on abandoned rail lines is to obtain information from the Surface Transportation Board (STB) or a state regulatory commission. Railroads are required to apply to STB for permission to abandon a rail line. In addition, some state laws require railroads to also apply for permission or to notify a state agency of intentions to abandon the line. The state highway engineer responsible for crossing safety and operations should be notified of these intentions. The state highway agency might work out an agreement with the state regulatory commission that any information on railroad abandonments is automatically sent to the state highway agency. Additionally, the state highway agency should periodically call the state regulatory commission or STB to obtain the records on rail abandonments in the state. Railroad personnel responsible for crossing safety and operations should also seek the same information from their traffic and operating departments.

Once a rail line has been identified as abandoned or abandonment is planned, the crossings on that line should be identified. This can be determined from the state inventory of crossings or obtained from FRA, custodian of the U.S. DOT National Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory. A field inspection of these crossings should be made to determine if all crossings on that line, both public and private, are listed in the inventory and to verify the type of traffic control devices located at each crossing.

This field inspection provides an excellent opportunity to assess the safety and operations of each crossing on that line, as discussed in Chapter III. If the rail line is not abandoned, the necessary information has been gathered to improve each crossing by one of the alternatives described in following sections.

If rail service has been discontinued, pending resolution of the abandonment application and formal abandonment, immediate measures should be taken to inform the public. For example, “Exempt” signs, if authorized by state law or regulation, can be placed at the crossing to notify drivers of special vehicles that a stop at the crossing is not necessary. Gate arms should be removed, and flashing light signal heads should be hooded, turned, or removed. However, if these actions are taken, the traffic control devices must be restored to their original condition prior to operating any trains over the crossing. For any subsequent use of the crossing by rail traffic pending final abandonment, the railroad shall provide flagging, law enforcement, or other case-by-case manual control of the crossing. The railroad might flag the train over the crossing until such action can be taken.

If it appears that rail service has been permanently discontinued, and resolution of official abandonment appears certain, the track should be paved over and all traffic control devices removed. This action should be taken immediately following official abandonment if no possibility exists for resumption of rail service. This can be determined by examining the potential for industry or business to require rail service. For

example, if the rail line was abandoned because the industry that required the service has moved and other plans for the land area have been made, it could be determined whether need for the rail service will continue. An agreement may be necessary between the public authority and the railroad to accomplish the physical removal of the tracks.

G. New Crossings

Similar to crossing closure/consolidation, opening a new public highway-rail crossing should likewise consider public necessity, convenience, safety, and economics. Generally, new grade crossings, particularly on mainline tracks, should not be permitted unless no other viable alternatives exist and, even in those instances, consideration should be given to closing one or more existing crossings. If a new grade crossing is to provide access to any land development, the selection of traffic control devices to be installed at the proposed crossing should be based on the projected needs of the fully completed development.

Communities, developers, and highway transportation planners need to be mindful that once a highway-rail grade crossing is established, drivers can develop a low tolerance for the crossing being blocked by a train for an extended period of time. If a new access is proposed to cross a railroad where railroad operation requires temporarily holding trains, only grade separation should be considered.85

H. Passive Traffic Control Devices

Passive traffic control devices provide static messages of warning, guidance, and, in some instances, mandatory action for the driver. Their purpose is to identify and direct attention to the location of a crossing to permit drivers and pedestrians to take appropriate action. Passive traffic control devices consist of regulatory signs, warning signs, guide signs, and supplemental pavement markings. They are basic devices and are incorporated into the design of active traffic control devices.

Signs and pavement markings are to be in conformance with MUTCD, which is revised periodically as the need arises. If there are differences between this handbook and the current edition of MUTCD concerning both active and passive traffic control devices, MUTCD should be followed. The diagrams shown in this handbook are taken from the current version of MUTCD (2003 Edition , Revision 1). Practitioners should confirm all signs, dimensions, and criteria with the latest edition of MUTCD.

Federal law requires that, as a minimum, each state shall provide signs at all crossings. The railroad crossbuck sign and other supplemental signs attached to the crossbuck mast are usually installed and maintained by the railroad company. The agency responsible for maintenance of the roadway is normally responsible for advance warning signs and pavement markings.

1. Signs

The typical signs used at highway-rail grade crossings are shown in Figure 11 and listed in Table 35. Individual characteristics and location requirements follow.

Figure 11. Typical Crossing Signs

Figure 11. Typical Crossing Signs. This image shows rows of typical crossing signs, including the criss-cross RAILROAD CROSSING, No Right Turn Across Tracks in black and white rectangle, Do Not Stop on Tracks in white rectangle, Stop Here When Flashing in white rectangle, Stop Here on Red, No Turn on Red, Exempt, Look, Trains May Exceed 80 mph in yellow diamond, Trains May Exceed 130 km/hr, No Train Horn, No Signal, 100 Feet Between Tracks & Highway, 30 Meters Between Tracks & Highway, 45 Meters Between Highway & Tracks Behind You, No Gates or Lights, Next Crossing, Use Next Crossing, Rough Crossing. Also several signs have images showing drivers the layout of the intersection of the highway and the railroad.

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

Table 35. Current MUTCD Devices

MUTCD no.

Section

Traffic control device

Application or indication of need

R3-1a

8B.06, 10C.09

No Right Turn Across Tracks

Used to prohibit turning movements toward the highway-rail grade crossing during preemption.

R3-2a

8B.06, 10C.09

No Left Turn Across Tracks

Used to prohibit turning movements toward the highway-rail grade crossing during preemption.

R8-8

8B.07, 10C.05

Do Not Stop on Tracks

Where queuing occurs or where storage space is limited between a nearby highway intersection and the tracks; may be supplemented with a flashing light activated by queuing traffic in the exit lane(s) from the crossing. (See discussion on queue cutter signals.)

R8-9

8B.09, 10C.06

Tracks Out of Service

Applicable when there is some physical disconnection along the railroad tracks to prevent trains from using those tracks.

R8-10

8B.10, 10C.08

Stop Here When Flashing

May be used at a highway-rail grade crossing to inform drivers of the location of the stop line or the point at which to stop when the flashing light signals (Section 8D.02) are activated.

R10-6

8B.11, 10C.07

Stop Here on Red

May be used at locations where vehicles frequently violate the stop line or where it is not obvious to road users where to stop.

R10-11a

8D.07, 10C.09

No Turn on Red

If there is a nearby signalized intersection with insufficient clear storage distance for a design vehicle or the highway-rail grade crossing does not have gates.

R15-1

8B.03, 10C.02

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing (crossbuck)

Required device.

R15-2

8B.03, 10C.02

Number of Tracks

Standard required device, with two or more tracks and no gate; optional with gate.

R15-3

8B.05, 10C.10

Exempt

School buses and commercial vehicles that are usually required to stop at crossings are not required to do so where authorized by ordinance.

R15-4a

10C.13

Light Rail Only Right Lane

For multilane operations where roadway users might need additional guidance on lane use and/or restrictions.

R15-4b

10C.13

Light Rail Only Left Lane

For multilane operations where roadway users might need additional guidance on lane use and/or restrictions.

R15-4c

10C.13

Light Rail Only Center Lane

For multilane operations where roadway users might need additional guidance on lane use and/or restrictions.

R15-5

10C.14

Light Rail Do Not Pass

Where vehicles are not allowed to pass LRT vehicles loading or unloading passengers where no raised platform physically separates the lanes.

R15-5a

10C.14

Do Not Pass Stopped Train

Where vehicles are not allowed to pass LRT vehicles loading or unloading passengers where no raised platform physically separates the lanes.

R15-6

10C.12

Do Not Drive On Tracks Light Rail Symbol

Used where there are adjacent vehicle lanes separated from the LRT lane by a curb or pavement markings.

R15-6a

10C.12

Do Not Drive On Tracks

Used where there are adjacent vehicle lanes separated from the LRT lane by a curb or pavement markings.

R15-7

10C.11

Light Rail Divided Highway Symbol

Use with appropriate geometric conditions.

R15-7a

10C.11

Light Rail Divided Highway Symbol (T-intersection)

Use with appropriate geometric conditions.

R15-8

8B.16, 10C.03

Look

•  Multiple tracks

•  Collision experience

•  Pedestrian presence

W10-1

8B.04, 10C.15

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Advance Warning

Required device, with MUTCD exceptions (Section 8B.04); school buses and commercial vehicles that are usually required to stop at crossings are not required to do so where authorized by ordinance.

W10-1a

8B.05, 10C.10

Exempt

(continued)

MUTCD no.

Section

Traffic control device

Application or indication of need

W10-2,3,4

8B.04, 10C.15

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Advance Warning

Based upon specific situations with a nearby parallel highway.

W10-5

8B.17, 10C.16

Low Ground Clearance Highway-Rail Grade Crossing

As indicated by MUTCD guidelines, incident history, or local knowledge.

W10-7

10C.17

Light Rail Activated Blank-Out Symbol

Supplements the traffic control signal to warn road users turning across the tracks of an approaching parallel LRT vehicle.

W10-8

8B.13

Trains May Exceed 130 km/h (80 mph)

Where train speed is 80 mph (130 km/hr.) or faster.

W10-9

8B.14

No Train Horn

Shall be used only for crossings in FRA-authorized quiet zones.

W10-10

8B.15

No Signal

May be used at passive controlled crossings.

W10-11

8B.18, 10C.18

Storage Space Symbol

Where the parallel highway is close to the crossing, particularly with limited storage space between the highway intersection and tracks.

W10-11a

8B.18, 10C.18

Storage Space XX Meters (Feet) Between Tracks & Highway

Where the parallel highway is close to the crossing, particularly with limited storage space between the highway intersection and tracks.

W10-11b

8B.18, 10C.18

Storage Space XX Meters (Feet) Between Highway & Tracks Behind You

Used where there is a highway intersection in close proximity to the highway-rail grade crossing and an engineering study determines that adequate space is not available to store a design vehicle(s) between the highway intersection and the train dynamic envelope.

W10-12

8B.19, 10C.19

Skewed Crossing

May be used at a skewed highway-rail grade crossing to warn drivers that the railroad tracks are not perpendicular to the highway.

W10-13

8B.15

No Gates or Lights

May be installed at highway-rail grade crossings that are not equipped with automated signals.

W10-14

8B.17

Next Crossing

Placed below the W10-5 sign at the nearest intersecting highway where a vehicle can detour or at a point on the highway wide enough to permit a U-turn.

W10-14a

8B.17

Use Next Crossing

Placed below the W10-5 sign at the nearest intersecting highway where a vehicle can detour or at a point on the highway wide enough to permit a U-turn.

W10-15

8B.17

Rough Crossing

If the highway-rail grade crossing is rough.

I-12

10C.20

Light Rail Station Symbol

Used to direct road users to a light rail station or boarding location.

I-13

8B.12, 10C.21

Emergency Notification

Post at all crossings to provide for emergency notification.

I-13a

8B.12, 10C.21

Emergency Notification

Post at all crossings to provide for emergency notification.

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

In general, MUTCD specifies that signs should be located on the right-hand side of the highway, where the driver is looking for them. Signs should be located to optimize visibility. Signs should not be located in a highway dip or beyond the crest of a hill. Care should be taken so that the sign is not obscured by parked cars or foliage or covered by roadside splatter or snow accumulation.

In rural areas, signs along the side of the road should be at least 5 feet high, measured from the bottom of the sign to the elevation of the near edge of the pavement. In business, commercial, and residential areas, where parking and/or pedestrian movements are likely to occur or where there are other sight obstructions, the clearance to the bottom of the sign should be at least 7 feet. The height to the bottom of a secondary sign mounted below another sign may be 1 foot lower than the height specified above.

Signs should have the maximum practical lateral clearance from the edge of the traveled way for the safety of motorists who may leave the highway and strike the sign supports (see MUTCD, 2003 Edition, Section 2A.19). Advantage should be taken of existing guardrails, overcrossing structures, and other conditions to minimize the exposure of sign supports to traffic.

Normally, signs should not be closer than 6 feet from the edge of the shoulder or, if none, 12 feet from the edge oH tWe traveled way. -n urban areas, a lesser clearance may be used where necessary. Although 2 feet is recommended as a working urban minimum, a clearance of 1 foot from the curb face is permissible if sidewalk width is limited or where existing poles are close to the curb.

Signs should be mounted approximately at right angles to the direction of and facing the traffic they are intended to serve. Post-mounted signs located close to the highway should be turned slightly away from the highway to avoid the reflection of headlights off the sign directly back into drivers' eyes.

Sign posts and their foundations and sign mountings should be constructed to hold signs in a proper and permanent position, to resist swaying in the wind or displacement by vandalism. If ground-mounted sign supports cannot be sufficiently offset from the pavement edge, sign supports should be of a suitable breakaway or yielding design. Concrete bases for sign supports should be flush with the ground level.

Sign materials are usually aluminum, wood, or galvanized or nongalvanized steel. Signs are retroreflectorized or illuminated to provide visibility at night. The requirements of sign illumination are not considered to be satisfied by street or highway lighting or by strobe lighting. Information on reflective materials is contained in the Traffic Control Devices Handbook. A 2003 study presents updated minimum recommended retroreflectivity levels in recognition of available sheeting materials, the needs of older drivers, and the evolution of vehicles and headlamps.86 FHWA has been developing standards on the retroreflectivity of signs, which include minimum values to be provided and maintained. FHWA recently published a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Amendments to MUTCD. The provisions were out for comment at the time this handbook was prepared.87

“Railroad Crossing” (crossbuck) sign (R15-1) and “Number of Tracks” sign (R15-2).

The “Railroad Crossing” sign, commonly identified as the crossbuck sign, consists of a white reflectorized background with the words RAILROAD CROSSING in black lettering, as shown in Figures 11 and 12. A minimum of one crossbuck shall be used on each highway approach to every crossing, alone or in combination with other traffic control devices.

Note: Crossbuck signs are not usually used at light-rail grade crossings where the tracks run in the street and traffic is controlled by traffic signals. Refer to Chapter IX, Part C for a discussion of clarifying language approved by the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) in June 2005. If there are two or more tracks at the crossing, the number of tracks is to be indicated on an auxiliary sign mounted below the crossbuck, as shown in Figure 12. The use of this auxiliary sign is optional at crossings with automatic gates.

Figure 12. Crossing Sign (Crossbuck)

Figure 12. Crossing Sign (Crossbuck). This diagram shows a typical Railroad Crossing/3 Tracks Sign. Shows proper measurements. Each spur of crossing sign is 48 in, width of sign is 9 in, angle is 90 degrees, height from ground to intersecting point on Railroad Crossing sign is 2.8m though this may be varied as required by local conditions. 50 mm white retroflective strip in the center of the main post.

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

Where physically feasible and visible to approaching traffic, the crossbuck sign should be installed on the right-hand side of the highway on each approach to the crossing. Where an engineering study finds restricted sight distance or unfavorable road geometry, crossbuck signs shall be placed back to back or otherwise located so that two faces are displayed to that approach. Some states and railroads use back-to-back crossbucks at every crossing; other states and railroads place reflectorized white stripes on the back of every crossbuck.

Crossbuck signs should be located with respect to the highway pavement or shoulder as discussed above for all signs and should be located with respect to the nearest track in accordance with signal locations as discussed in the next section. Where unusual conditions exist, the placement of crossbucks should provide the best possible combination of view and safety clearances as determined by engineering judgment.

Advance warning signs (Wl0-1, Wl0-2, Wl0-3, W10-4). The round, black, and yellow advance warning sign (W10-1) is located in advance of the crossing and serves to alert the motorist that a crossing is ahead. The advance warning sign has a minimum diameter of 36 inches for conventional roads. The sign is required in advance of all crossings except:

•    On an approach to a highway-rail grade crossing from a T-intersection with a parallel highway, if the distance from the edge of the track to the edge of the parallel roadway is less than 30 meters (100 feet) and W10-3 signs are used on both approaches of the parallel highway; or

•    On low-volume, low-speed highways crossing minor spurs or other tracks that are infrequently used and are flagged by train crews; or

•    In business districts where active highway-rail grade crossing traffic control devices are in use; or

•    Where physical conditions do not permit even a partially effective display of the sign.

When the crossing is on a divided highway, it is desirable to place an additional advance warning sign on the left side of each approach. It may also be desirable to place an additional sign on the left side of a highway approach when the highway alignment limits the visibility of signs mounted on the right side.

The distance from the advance warning sign to the track is dependent upon the highway speed but in no case should be less than 100 feet in advance of the nearest rail. This distance should allow the driver sufficient time to comprehend and react to the sign's message and to perform any necessary maneuver. The recommended distances are shown in Tables 36 and 37. Condition A is used for advanced warning sign placement.

Where a road runs parallel to a railroad and the perpendicular distance between the two is less than 100 feet, there is not enough distance to display the advance warning sign (Wl0-1). For traffic turning from the parallel road, one of three other warning signs (W10-2, W10-3, and W10-4) can be used when their need has been determined from an engineering study. Figure 13 shows typical sign placements for crossings located near highway intersections; Figure 14 indicates a recommended treatment for crossings that lack adequate clear storage distance; and Figure 15 shows possible signage placement for locations with limited sight distance.

“No Signal” and “Signal Ahead” signs (W10-10 and W10-16). A recent study of passive devices at highway-rail grade crossings recommended that a supplemental sign should be placed at the location of the advance warning sign to inform highway users as to whether passive or active devices are present at a downstream grade crossing.88 Subsequently, at the January 2006 meeting of NCUTCD, the council approved proposed changes to MUTCD that would allow use of “No Signal” and “Signal Ahead” signs (W10-10 and W10-16) for locations where the grade crossing advance warning sign is placed.

Advisory speed plate (W13-1). The advisory speed plate should be used when sight or geometric conditions require a speed lower than the posted speed limit. It should not be erected until the recommended speed has been determined by an engineering study of the specific crossing. If the plate is used, the recommended speed should be periodically reviewed and revised as necessary. Should it be determined that the advisory speed plate is not effective in reducing vehicular speeds, it may be appropriate to use a regulatory speed limit sign (R2-1). The advisory speed plate must be mounted on the same assembly and is normally below the advance warning sign (W-10 series).

STOP and YIELD signs (R1-1 & R1-2). The 2003 edition of MUTCD requires the crossbuck (R15-1) sign for all highway approaches to railroad grade crossings. It also allows the optional use of YIELD or STOP signs at passive crossings.

Table 36. Placement Distances for Advance Warning Signs (English Units)

Advance Placement Distance 1

Posted or
85th-Percentile
Speed

Condition A:
Speed
Reduction
and
Lane
Changing
in Heavy
Traffic2

Condition B: Deceleration to the listed advisory speed (mph) for the condition4

03

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

20 mph

225 ft.

N/A5

N/A5

25 mph

325 ft.

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

30 mph

450 ft.

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

35 mph

550 ft.

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

40 mph

650 ft.

125 ft.

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

45 mph

750 ft.

175 ft.

125 ft.

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

50 mph

850 ft.

250 ft.

200 ft.

150 ft.

100 ft.

N/A5

55 mph

950 ft.

325 ft.

275 ft.

225 ft.

175 ft.

100 ft.

N/A5

60 mph

1100 ft.

400 ft.

350 ft.

300 ft.

250 ft.

175 ft.

N/A5

65 mph

1200 ft.

475 ft.

425 ft.

400 ft.

350 ft.

275 ft.

175 ft.

N/A5

70 mph

1250 ft.

550 ft.

525 ft.

500 ft.

425 ft.

350 ft.

250 ft.

150 ft.

75 mph

1350 ft.

650 ft.

625 ft.

600 ft.

525 ft.

450 ft.

350 ft.

250 ft.

100 ft.

Notes:

1 The distances are adjusted for a sign legibility distance of 175 ft. for Condition A. The distances for Condition B have been adjusted for a sign legibility distance of 250 ft., which is appropriate for an alignment warning symbol sign.

2 Typical conditions are locations where the road user must use extra time to adjust speed and change lanes in heavy traffic because of a complex driving situation. Typical signs are Merge and Right Lane Ends. The distances are determined by providing the driver a PIEV time of 14.0 to 14.5 seconds for vehicle maneuvers (2001 AASHTO Policy, Exhibit 3-3, Decision Sight Distance, Avoidance Maneuver E) minus the legibility distance of 175 ft. for the appropriate sign.

3 Typical condition is the warning of a potential stop situation. Typical signs are Stop Ahead, Yield Ahead, Signal Ahead, and Intersection Warning signs. The distances are based on the 2001 AASHTO Policy, Stopping Sight Distance, Exhibit 3-1, providing a PIEV time of 2.5 seconds, a deceleration rate of 11.2 ft./second2, minus the sign legibility distance of 175 ft.

4 Typical conditions are locations where the road user must decrease speed to maneuver through the warned condition. Typical signs are Turn, Curve, Reverse Turn, or Reverse Curve. The distance is determined by providing a 2.5 second PIEV time, a vehicle deceleration rate of 10 ft./ second2, minus the sign legibility distance of 250 ft.

5 No suggested distances are provided for these speeds, as the placement location is dependent on site conditions and other signing to provide an adequate advance warning for the driver.

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

Table 37. Placement Distances for Advance Warning Signs (Metric Units)

Advance Placement Distance 1

Posted or
85th-Percentile Speed
(km/hr.)

Condition A:
Speed
Reduction
and
Lane
Changing
in Heavy
Traffic2

Condition B: Deceleration to the listed advisory speed (km/hr.) for the condition4

03

10

20

30

40

50

60

70

80

90

100

110

30

60 m

N/A5

N/A5

40

100 m

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

50

150 m

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

60

180 m

30 m

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

70

220 m

50 m

40 m

30 m

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

80

260 m

80 m

60 m

55 m

50 m

40 m

30 m

N/A5

N/A5

90

310 m

110 m

90 m

80 m

70 m

60 m

40 m

N/A5

N/A5

N/A5

100

350 m

130 m

120 m

115 m

110 m

100 m

90 m

70 m

60 m

40 m

N/A5

110

380 m

170 m

160 m

150 m

140 m

130 m

120 m

110 m

90 m

70 m

50 m

N/A5

120

420 m

200 m

190 m

185 m

180 m

170 m

160 m

140 m

130 m

110 m

90 m

60 m

40 m

130

460 m

230 m

230 m

230 m

220 m

210 m

200 m

180 m

170 m

150 m

120 m

100 m

70 m

Notes:

1 The distances are adjusted for a sign legibility distance of 50 m for Condition A. The distances for Condition B have been adjusted for a sign legibility distance of 75 m, which is appropriate for an alignment warning symbol sign.

2 Typical conditions are locations where the road user must use extra time to adjust speed and change lanes in heavy traffic because of a complex driving situation. Typical signs are Merge and Right Lane Ends. The distances are determined by providing the driver a PIEV time of 14.0 to 14.5 seconds for vehicle maneuvers (2001 AASHTO Policy, Exhibit 3-3, Decision Sight Distance, Avoidance Maneuver E) minus the legibility distance of 50 m for the appropriate sign.

3 Typical condition is the warning of a potential stop situation. Typical signs are Stop Ahead, Yield Ahead, Signal Ahead, and Intersection Warning signs. The distances are based on the 2001 AASHTO Policy, Stopping Sight Distance, Exhibit 3-1, providing a PIEV time of 2.5 seconds, a deceleration rate of 3.4 m/second2, minus the sign legibility distance of 50 m.

4 Typical conditions are locations where the road user must decrease speed to maneuver through the warned condition. Typical signs are Turn, Curve, Reverse Turn, or Reverse Curve. The distance is determined by providing a 2.5 second PIEV time, a vehicle deceleration rate of 3 m/second2, minus the sign legibility distance of 75 m.

5 No suggested distances are provided for these speeds, as the placement location is dependent on site conditions and other signing to provide an adequate advance warning for the driver.

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

Figure 13. Supplemental Advance Warning Signs

Figure 13. Supplemental Advance Warning Signs. This diagram shows two scenarios of roads intersecting train tracks. The first scenario shows typical sign system where parallel highway is over 100 feet from crossing. The RXR sign is placed before intersecting road across from a No Passing Zone sign, then another RXR sign is placed after the intersecting road. Finally a Railroad Crossing sign is placed just before the intersecting train track. The second scenario shows typical sign system where parallel highway is within 100 feet of crossing. The RXR sign is placed before the intersecting road across from a No Passing Zone sign. A sign depicting an image of the road layout is placed along intersecting road farther out from No Passing Zone sign. On the other side, the same layout sign is placed after the intersecting road, farther out form the RXR sign. The Railroad Crossing Sign is placed just before the intersecting train track.

Figure 14. Substandard Clear Storage Distance

Figure 14. Substandard Clear Storage Distance. This diagram shows the placement of signs to advise drivers of vehicle storage space between intersection and crossing. The farthest sign is XX Feet Between Tracks and Highway, the second farthest is a sign with image depicting the layout of the roadway, the closest sign to the train tracks reads Do Not Stop on Tracks, across the train tracks is a sign that reads XX Feet Between Highway and Tracks Behind You. Clear Storage Distance starts 1.8m from the track to 1.8m before the highway.

Source: Traffic Control Devices Handbook. Washington, DC: Institute of Transportation Engineers, 2001.

Figure 15. Possible Sign System Where Sight Distance Is Limited On Approach to the Crossing

Figure 15. Possible Sign System Where Sign Distance is Limited On Approach to the Crossing. The farthest sign from the tracks reads XX M.P.H, the second farthest sign is a RXR sign, this is followed by three signs, a repeat of the XX M.P.H sign, a Look sign with arrows pointing each direction, and a diamond shaped TRAIN sign. Closest to the tracks are two signs, first another LOOK sign with arrows and a Railroad Crossing sign.

Source: Traffic Control Devices Handbook. Washington, DC: Institute of Transportation Engineers, 2001.

Although the crossbuck sign is a regulatory sign that requires vehicles to yield to trains and stop if necessary, recent research indicates insufficient road user understanding of and compliance with that regulatory requirement when just the crossbuck sign is present at passive crossings. FHWA encourages consideration of the use of the YIELD sign in conjunction with the crossbuck sign at all passive crossings, except where train crews always provide flagging to roadway users. The STOP sign should be used at locations where engineering judgment determines it is appropriate. Figure 16 shows the typical layout, where STOP or YIELD signs are provided. For determination of the need for STOP or YIELD signs, refer to criteria provided in Chapter V of this handbook.

Figure 16. Typical Sign System Where STOP or YIELD at Crossing Is Required

Figure 16. Typical Sign System Where STOP or YIELD at Crossing is Required. The farthest sign from the track is a RXR sign, followed by a sign with an image indicating a yield or stop sign ahead. At the intersection of the tracks is a Railroad Crossing sign and a Stop or Yield sign, as required.

Source: Traffic Control Devices Handbook. Washington, DC: Institute of Transportation Engineers, 2001. When used at a passive crossing, the YIELD or STOP sign shall be installed in conformance with the general principles and standards for sign installations in Part 2 and Part 8 of MUTCD. In addition, the following guidance can be considered for the installation of YIELD or STOP signs at passive crossings:

•    When the YIELD or STOP sign is installed on the same support as the crossbuck sign, a strip of retroreflective material shall be used on the front and back of the support. The color of the retroreflective strip on the front of the support may be red (as per Section 2A.21) or white (as per Section 8B.03). The color of the retroreflective strip on the back of the support shall be white. The dimensions and placement of the retroreflective strips shall be in conformance with the standards in Section 8B.03.

•    When a STOP sign is installed in conjunction with the crossbuck sign, a stop line should be installed, if appropriate to the roadway surface, to indicate the point behind which vehicles are required to stop, as per Section 3B.16.

•    When a YIELD sign is used in conjunction with the crossbuck sign, either a yield line (per Section 3B.16) or a stop line (per Section 8B.21 and Figure 8B-6) may be installed to supplement the YIELD sign. When used, the stop line or yield line (such as size, pattern, and location) must be in conformance with provisions in the current edition of MUTCD.

• The stop line or yield line should be located no less than 4.6 meters (15 feet) measured perpendicular from the nearest rail, as per Figure 8B-6.

Figure 17. Highway-Rail Grade Crossing (Crossbuck) Sign and STOP or YIELD Sign on Same Post

Figure 17. Highway-Rail Grade Crossing (Crossbuck) Sign and STOP or YIELD Sign on Same Post. This image shows two diagrams of Railroad Crossing Signs with a Stop Sign or Yield Sign under the 3 Tracks sign. Height to the intersecting point of the Railroad Crossing from the ground is 2.8m. The white (white or red on front)  reflective strip is 50mm, starting 0.6m from the bottom.

* Note: 1.2-meter (4-foot) minimum for installations of STOP or YIELD sign on existing crossbuck sign support; 2.1-meter (7-foot) minimum in areas with pedestrian movements or parking.

Source: Guidance for Use of YIELD or STOP Signs with the Crossbuck Sign at Passive Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Memo issued by Jeffrey P. Paniati, Associate Administrator for Operations, and John R. Baxter, Acting Associate Administrator for Safety, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, March 2006.

Examples of design and placement of YIELD or STOP signs in conjunction with crossbuck signs are shown in Figures 17 and 18.

“Stop Ahead” and “Yield Ahead” signs (W3-1 & W3-2). MUTCD also requires that “Stop Ahead” or “Yield Ahead” advance warning signs shall be installed if STOP or YIELD signs are used at the crossing and highway users do not have a continuous view of at least two sign faces for the distances specified in MUTCD Table 4D-1 (see Tables 38 and 39.) If used, the placement of “Stop Ahead” or “Yield Ahead” advance signs shall be in accordance with MUTCD Table 2C-4 (refer to Tables 36 and 37.)

“Do Not Stop on Tracks” sign (R8-8). In accordance with MUTCD Section 8B.07, whenever engineering judgment determines that the potential for vehicles stopping on the tracks is high, a “Do Not Stop on Tracks” (R8-8) sign should be used. The sign, if used, should be located on the right side of the highway on either the near or far side of the highway-rail grade crossing, depending upon which side provides better visibility to approaching drivers. “Do Not Stop on Tracks” signs may be placed on both sides of the track. On divided highways and one-way streets, a second “Do Not Stop on Tracks” sign may be placed on the near or far left side of the highway-rail grade crossing to further improve visibility of the sign.

Figure 18. Highway-Rail Grade Crossing (Crossbuck) Sign and STOP or YIELD Sign on Separate Posts

Figure 18. Highway-Rail Grade Crossing (Crossbuck) Sign and STOP or YIELD Sign on Separate Posts. In a rural setting, the stop or yield sign is set inside the crossbuck to the traveled road. The bottom of the yield or stop sign should be 1.5m from ground. The edge of the yield or stop sign should be 1.8m from edge of roadway. The top of the yield or stop sign should be 50mm from the bottom of the crossbuck. There is a 50mm wide red reflective strip on the yield or stop sign post, and a 50mm wide white strip, 0.6m from the ground, on the crossbuck post. In an area with pedestrian movements or parking, the stop or yield sign should be 0.6m from the edge of the roadway than the crossbuck. The bottom of the stop or yield sign should be 2.1m from the ground, and the edge of the stop or yield sign should be 50mm from the edge of the  crossbuck sign. There should be a red reflective strip 50mm wide on the stop or yield sign post, and a white reflective strip 50mm wide, 0.6m from the ground on the crossbuck sign post.

* Note: Place face of signs in the same plane and the YIELD or STOP sign closest to the traveled way; 50-millimeter (2-inch) minimum separation between the edge of the crossbuck sign and the edge of YIELD or STOP sign.

Source: Guidance for Use of YIELD or STOP Signs with the Crossbuck Sign at Passive Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Memo issued by Jeffrey P. Paniati, Associate Administrator for Operations, and John R. Baxter, Acting Associate Administrator for Safety, Federal Highway Administration, Washington, DC, March 2006.

Table 38. Minimum Sight Distance Table (English Units)

85th-percentile speed (mph)

Minimum sight distance (feet)

20

175

25

215

30

270

35

325

40

390

45

460

50

540

55

625

60

715

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

Table 39. Minimum Sight Distance Table (Metric Units)

85th-percentile speed (km/hr.)

Minimum sight distance (meters)

30

50

40

65

50

85

60

110

70

140

80

165

90

195

100

220

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

“Exempt” sign (R15-3, W-10-1a). When authorized by law or regulation, a supplemental “Exempt” (R15-3) sign with a white background bearing the word EXEMPT may be used below the crossbuck sign or “Number of Tracks” sign, if present, at the highway-rail grade crossing, and a supplemental “Exempt” (W10-1a) sign with a yellow background bearing the word EXEMPT may be used below the highway-rail advance warning (W10-1) sign. These supplemental signs inform drivers of vehicles carrying passengers for hire, school buses carrying students, or vehicles carrying hazardous materials that a stop is not required at certain designated highway-rail grade crossings, except when a train, locomotive, or other railroad equipment is approaching or occupying the highway-rail grade crossing or the driver's view is blocked.

Turn prohibition signs (R3-1a and R3-2a). Per MUTCD Section 8B.06, at a signalized intersection located within 60 meters (200 feet) of a highway-rail grade crossing, measured from the edge of the track to the edge of the roadway, where the intersection traffic control signals are preempted by the approach of a train, all existing turning movements toward the highway-rail grade crossing should be prohibited during the signal preemption sequences. A blank-out or changeable message sign, and/or appropriate highway traffic signal indication or other similar type sign, may be used to prohibit turning movements toward the highway-rail grade crossing during preemption. The R3-1a and R3-2a signs shown in Figure 11 may be used for this purpose. Turn prohibition signs that are associated with preemption shall be visible only when the highway-rail grade crossing restriction is in effect.

“No Passing Zone” sign (W14-3). The “No Passing Zone” sign may be installed at crossings to supplement “No Passing” pavement markings. This sign consists of black letters and border on a yellow background and shall be a pennant-shaped isosceles triangle with its longer axis horizontal and pointing to the right with dimensions of 36 inches by 48 inches by 48 inches. The sign is to be placed on the left side of the highway at the beginning of the no passing zone.

2. Pavement Markings

Pavement markings are used to supplement the regulatory and warning messages presented by crossing signs and signals. Pavement markings have limitations in that they may be obliterated by snow, may not be clearly visible when wet, and may not be very durable when subjected to heavy traffic.

Pavement markings in advance of highway-rail grade crossings shall consist of an X, the letters RR, a NO PASSING marking for two-lane roads, and certain transverse lines, as shown in Figure 19. These pavement markings shall be placed on each approach lane on all paved approaches to crossings where crossing signals or automatic gates are located, and at all other crossings where the prevailing speed of highway traffic is 40 mph or greater. These markings are also to be placed at crossings where engineering studies indicate there is a significant potential conflict between vehicles and trains. These markings may be omitted at minor crossings or in urban areas if an engineering study indicates that other crossing devices provide suitable control. Figure 19 shows a placement example of warning signs and pavement markings at highway-rail grade crossings.

The most common pavement marking material is paint; however, a wide variety of other materials is available. Pavement markings are to be retroreflectorized by mixing glass beads in wet paint or thermoplastic material. Raised pavement markers can be used to supplement pavement markings in advance of crossings. The “X” lane lines and the stop line can be delineated by raised retroreflective markers to provide improved guidance at night and during periods of rain and fog. Disadvantages of raised pavement markers include the initial cost and the possibility of being damaged or removed by snow plows.

Figure 19. Example of Placement of Warning Signs and Pavement Markings at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

Figure 19. Example of Placement of Warning Signs and Pavement Markings at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. This diagram shows a three-lane roadway with transversing train track. The stop line is 2.4m from gate, if present. On multi-lane roads, the transverse bands should extend across all approach lanes, and individual RXR symbols should be used in each approach lane. A RXR sign precedes the RXR pavement markings. A No Passing Zone can be placed opposite the RXR sign.

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

All pavement markings are to be retroreflectorized white except for the NO PASSING markings that are to be retroreflectorized yellow. The stop line is to be 2 feet in width and extend across the approach lanes. The stop line should be located perpendicular to the highway centerline and approximately 15 feet from the nearest rail. Where automatic gates are installed, the stop line should be located approximately 8 feet in advance of where the gate arm crosses the highway surface. Figure 20 shows alternate pavement markings that place the paint out of the wheel path.

Transit Cooperative Research Program Report 69 recommends that the “Keep Clear” zone be striped with 0.15-meter (6-inch) white striping at a 45-degree angle to the roadway, with 1.5-meter (5-foot) separations between centerlines (see Figure 21, which was developed from the Illinois Department of Transportation policy on pre-signals). It also recommends that the striping not continue over the railroad crossing panels, but it shall be continued between panels of multiple tracks. The report also recommends that, at skewed crossings where the angle between the diagonal stripes and the rail would be less than about 20 degrees, the stripes should be sloped in the opposite direction. Pavement marking shall conform to MUTCD, Part 3.89

Figure 20. Alternate Pavement Markings at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

Figure 20. Alternate Pavement Markings at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. This diagram shows several roadway crossing scenarios, including various angles at which the train track may cross the roadway and appropriate RXR pavement markings in multi-lane roadways.

Source: Texas Department of Transportation.

Figure 21. Typical Supplemental Signing and Pavement Marking Treatment for Railroad Crossings

Figure 21. Typical Supplemental Signing and Pavement Marking Treatment for Railroad Crossings. This diagram shows two scenarios for pavement markings at railroad crossings, one without pre-signal and one with pre-signal.

NO SCALE

Note: 1. Pavement markings to be installed only on approaches to intersections controlled by traffic signals which are interconnected with the railroad warning signals.

2. Where the angle between the diagonal stripes and the track (CD) would be less than approximately 20°, the stripes should be sloped in the opposite direction from that shown.

Source: Korve, Hans W. , Brent D. Ogden, Joaquin T. Siques, D. Mansel, et al. Light Rail Service: Pedestrian and Vehicular Safety. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Program Report 69, National Academy Press, 2001, p. 85–86.

Footnotes

72  Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, November 2002.

73  Federal-Aid Policy Guide. 646.214(c), Washington, DC: FHWA.

74 Uniform Vehicle Code and Model Traffic Ordinance. National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances, Evanston, Illinois, 1961, and Supplement, 1984.

75 Nichelson, Jr. , G. Rex and George L. Reed. Grade Separations— When Do We Separate. 1999 Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Conference. Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), College Station, Texas, October 17–19, 1999 (www.tti.edu or www.tamu.edu).

76  Gitelman, Victoria, A. Shalom Hakkert, Etti Doveh, and Ayala Cohen. “Screening Tools for Considering Grade Separation at Rail-Highway Crossings.” Journal of Transportation Engineering (January 2006).

77  Ogden, Brent D. “Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority Grade Crossing Policy: Reducing Uncertainty And Defining Scope And Cost For Light Rail Transit/Roadway Crossings.” Proceedings, American Public Transportation Association Light Rail Conference, Miami, Florida, 2004.

78  Schrader, M.H. and J.R. Hoffpauer. “Methodology For Evaluating Highway-Railway Grade Separations.” Transportation Research Record, No. 1754, Traffic Control Devices, Visibility, and Rail-Highway Grade Crossings, 2001.

79  TransTech Group, Inc., G. Rex Nichelson, and George Reed. “A Procedure for the Provision of Highway-Railroad Grade Separations.” 2001 National Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Conference sponsored by TTI, College Station, Texas, April 2001.

80  Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: FHWA, Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, November 2002.

81 Carroll, Anya A. and Judith D. Warren.“Closure of U.S. Highway Grade Crossings: A Status Report.” Washington, DC: Transportation Research Board 82nd Annual Meeting Compendium of Papers CD-ROM, January 12-16, 2003.

82 Consolidating Railroad Crossings: On Track for Safety in North Carolina. Rail Division, Engineering and Safety Branch, North Carolina Department of Transportation, 2000 (www.dot.state.nc.us/).

83 San Gabriel Valley Grade Crossings Study, San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments, Korve Engineering, Inc., January 1997.

84 Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: FHWA, Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, November 2002.

85 Ibid.

86  Carlson, PaulJ. and H. Gene Hawkins, Jr. Updated Minimum Retroreflectivity Levels for Traffic Signs. FHWA-RD-03-081, July 2003.

87  23CFR Part 655, FHWA Docket No. FHWA-2003-15149. Federal Register, May 8, 2006.

88 Lerner, Neil D. et al. Traffic-Control Devices for Passive Railroad-Highway Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 470, Transportation Research Board, 2002.

89 Korve, Hans W. , Brent D. Ogden, Joaquin T. Siques, D. Mansel, et al. Light Rail Service: Pedestrian and Vehicular Safety. Washington, DC: Transit Cooperative Research Program Report 69, National Academy Press, 2001, p. 85–86.


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