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Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned


Crossing Surface

A photo of a paved section of trail crossing two sets of train tracks at a signed and signalized crossing.
Dual track grade crossing.
Burlington, VT

This is an overhead view of a paved 2-lane road crossing a railroad track at a 90 degree angle. The following passive warning devices are recommended. On each side of the track along the roadway which is '4m (12ft)' wide, at '30.0m (50ft)' from crossing place a 'Crossing Warning Sign (W10-1).' At '4.0m (15ft)' from the crossing place a 'RR Crossing Sign (R15-1)'. Over the track roadbed at the crossing it is recommended to have a 'Concrete or rubberized pad, flush with rail top.' At each approach there are 'RR Pavement Markings.' A 'ROW Fence' is '7.6m (25ft)' from track roadbed on each side of the tracks. See
FIGURE 5.22 Crossing equipped with passive warning devices (MUTCD Fig. 9B-3)

This is an overhead view of a paved 2-lane road crossing a railroad track at a 90 degree angle. The following active warning devices are recommended.  Over the track roadbed at the crossing it is recommended to have a 'Concrete or rubberized pad, flush with rail top.' At each approach there are 'RR Pavement Markings.' A 'ROW Fence' is '7.6m (25ft)' from the edge of the track roadbed on each side of the tracks. 'Offset to signal equipment in accordance with MUTCD' a 'Crossing Signal Gate, Flashing Lights, RR Crossing Sign (R15-1)' should be placed. As in the previous sketch a 'Crossing Warning Sign (W10-1)' is also recommended. R15-1 is shown as composed of two horizontal rectangular white signs placed one on top of the other to form an 'x,' denoting a crossbuck. In black letters, the word 'RAILROAD' is shown on the piece running from northwest to southeast, and the word 'CROSSING' is shown on the piece running from southwest to northeast. W10-1 is shown as a round yellow sign with a black border. It shows a black 'X' with a black 'R' to the left and right of it. See and
FIGURE 5.23 Crossing equipped with active warning devices and fencing

The smoothness of the crossing surface has a profound effect on trail users. Sudden bumps and uneven surfaces can cause bicycle riders to lose control and crash. For pedestrians, trails that are designed to meet ADA Accessibility Guidelines must maintain a smooth surface.

The AASHTO Bike Guide notes, "The crossing surface itself should have a riding quality equivalent to that of the approach roadway. If the crossing surface is in poor condition, the driver's attention may be devoted to choosing the smoothest path over the crossing. This effort may well reduce the attention given to observance of the warning devices or to the primary hazard of the crossing, which is the approaching train."

Trail managers will be responsible for providing railroads with slip-resistant crossing surface materials. Accessible trails should include tactile warning strips prior to at-grade track crossings.

Nighttime Illumination

Most RWTs will experience nighttime use. Thus, lighting should be provided at trail-rail crossings. Refer to: American National Standard Practice for Roadway Lighting, ANSI IESNA RP-8 (available from the Illuminating Engineering Society) for the appropriate location of lighting fixtures and recommended lighting levels for rail grade crossings. Lighting must be shielded from the locomotive engineer's view for safety reasons.

Advanced Warning Devices at Trail-Rail Crossings

A variety of warning devices are available for trail-rail crossings. In addition to the MUTCD standard devices, there are innovative treatments developed to encourage cautious bicyclist and pedestrian behavior. This report does not sanction one type of treatment as being appropriate for all trail-rail crossings, nor does the MUTCD provide a standard design for highway-track crossings. The MUTCD states, "Because of the large number of significant variables to be considered, no single standard system of traffic control devices is universally applicable for all highway-rail grade crossings. The appropriate traffic control system should be determined by an engineering study involving both the highway agency and the railroad company." The same applies for trail-rail intersections.

There are two categories of advanced warning devices:

Railroad warning signs. See

FIGURE 5.25 MUTCD-approved railroad warning signs that may be appropriate for RWTs

Highway-rail crossing (Crossbuck) sign. See
FIGURE 5.24 Highway-rail crossing (Crossbuck) sign (MUTCD Fig. 8B-1)

PASSIVE WARNING DEVICES AT TRAIL-RAIL CROSSINGS. Trail-rail crossings with passive warning devices should comply with the MUTCD's minimum recommended treatment at high-way-rail grade crossings. The MUTCD states, "One Crossbuck sign shall be installed on each highway approach to every highway-rail grade crossing, alone or in combination with other traffic control devices."

The MUTCD also states that "if automatic gates are not present and if there are two or more tracks at the highway-rail grade crossing, the number of tracks shall be indicated on a supplemental Number of Tracks (R15-2) sign...mounted below the Crossbuck sign...indicated in Figure 8B-1" (see Figure 5.24). Refer to the MUTCD for further guidance regarding the location and retroreflectivity of these signs.

STOP AND YIELD SIGNS. The MUTCD makes the following statements about the use of STOP and YIELD signs at highway-rail grade crossings: "At the discretion of the responsible State or local highway agency, STOP or YIELD signs may be used at highway-rail grade crossings that have two or more trains per day and are without automatic traffic control devices." This may also apply to trail crossings, as determined by an engineering study that considers the number and speed of trains, sight distances, the collision history of the area, and other factors. Willingness of local law enforcement personnel to enforce the STOP signs should also be considered.

Updated: 2/11/2014
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