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Rails-with-Trails: Lessons Learned


WARNING SIGNS. The MUTCD also contains a number of warning signs that can be used to indicate the configuration of the upcoming crossing, or to otherwise warn users of special conditions. Warning signs that may be appropriate for RWTs are shown in Figure 5.25 (MUTCD signs: W10-1, W10-2, W10-3, W-10-4, W10-8, W10-8a, R15-1, R15-2, R15-8, and W10-11).

A photo of a sign which says 'DO NOT WALK OR PLAY ON TRACKS! NO TRESPASSING. Between the 2 phrases is a graphic of a man standing on railroad tracks with a red circle with a slash through it.
Steel Bridge Riverwalk. Portland, OR


ATSF Trail, Irvine, CA
An image of 3 separate signs. The first sign says 'WARNING. Danger: Moving trains! Look both ways'. The second sign is diamond-shaped, has a 'TRI-MET' logo and a horizontal bi-directional arrow. Words under the arrow are 'LOOK BOTH WAYS'. The third sign is identical to the previous except the words are in Spanish. The words are 'MIRE PARA LOS DOS LADOS'.
Signs at transit stations. Portland, Beaverton, and Gresham, OR
A graphic of a diamond shaped sign. On the sign there is a bicycle with wavy lines along the ground coming out from the wheels indicating a slippery surface. The bicycle is above and to the right of a graphic of a railroad track.
Oregon Department of Transportation
A photo of a set of signs. The uppermost sign has the wording 'CAUTION ACTIVE RAILROAD;' one word per line. Directly below sits another sign with the words 'STAY OFF TRACKS $500 FINE'.
Kennebec River Rail-Trail. Farmingdale, ME

FIGURE 5.26 Sample trespassing and other signs

OTHER SIGNS. The MUTCD applies to all signs that may be considered traffic control devices, whether on roads or on shared use paths. The MUTCD provides specifications on sign shapes, colors, dimensions, legends, borders, and illumination or retroreflectivity. Section 2A.06 notes that "State and local highway agencies may develop special word message signs in situations where roadway conditions make it necessary to provide road users with additional regulatory, warning, or guidance information."

The MUTCD does not apply to signs that are not traffic control devices, such as "No Trespassing" signs and informational kiosks. Many jurisdictions require "No Trespassing" signs to be posted along railroad tracks. Figure 5.26 offers some examples.

A photo of 2 signals on each side of a trail at the approach to a rail corridor.
Active warning devices at Burlington Waterfront Bikeway track crossing. Burlington, VT

Some railroad companies, trail developers, and State and local governments haved used a number of non-MUTCD-compliant supplemental signs at rail-trail crossings. Some of these have been adopted in State or local roadway and/or trail design guidelines. While these signs may provide information not available on MUTCD-compliant signs, they may increase the trail developer's or community's liability exposure.

The MUTCD recognizes that continuing advances in technology will produce changes that will require updating the Manual, and that unique situations often arise for signs and other traffic control devices that may require changes. Section 1A.10 describes the procedure to request changes or permission to experiment with traffic control signs and devices. Guidelines may be found on the Internet at

PAVEMENT MARKINGS. In the case of paved trails, pavement markings also are required by the MUTCD. At a minimum, they should consist of an "X," the letters "RR," and a stop bar line (see Figure 5.25, on page 75 and Parts 8 and 9 of the MUTCD).

For unpaved trails, consideration should be given to paving the approaches to trail-rail crossings, not only so that appropriate pavement markings can be installed, but also to provide a smooth crossing. If it is not possible to pave the approaches, additional warning devices may be needed.

Updated: 2/11/2014
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