The National Academies

NCHRP 03-57 [Completed]

Recommended Traffic-Control Devices for Railroad-Highway Grade Crossings

  Project Data
Funds: $249,837
Research Agency: Westat
Principal Investigator: Neil D. Lerner
Effective Date: 6/1/1999
Completion Date: 12/31/2001

Background: While crashes at railroad-highway grade crossings have been significantly reduced, automobile-train crash fatalities continue to be a serious traffic safety concern. The Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) provides guidance on what traffic-control devices should be used at grade crossings. Much research has been conducted and is underway to determine the effectiveness of standard and alternative grade-crossing traffic-control devices. Although many studies have included good experimental designs to evaluate devices, others have not. The validity of some studies is also suspect because of inappropriate statistical tests or inadequate control for biases. As a result, questions on the effectiveness of current MUTCD devices have never been adequately resolved, and the results of most of the studies have not been incorporated into the MUTCD.

Based on perceived shortcomings in the standard MUTCD grade-crossing traffic-control devices and the results of some research studies, transportation agencies across the United States have implemented a wide variety of modifications to the standard devices (e.g., "Ohio Buckeye," retroreflective patterns on crossbuck posts, "Yield to Trains" and "Look for Trains" signs, and rumble strips on approaches). Such modifications have contributed to the inconsistency of grade-crossing treatments across the United States.

Objective: The objective of this project was to recommend traffic-control devices that improve the behavior of motorists when approaching and crossing railroad track or tracks.

Tasks: To accomplish the project objective, the following tasks were carried out: (1) Identify, analyze, describe, and critically evaluate the validity of pertinent domestic and international research results, on the basis of applicability and conclusiveness of findings for the evaluation of various railroad-highway grade-crossing traffic-control devices. (2) Describe and classify appropriate and inappropriate motorist behavior when approaching and crossing a railroad track and the resulting consequences. (3) Based on the Task 1 evaluation, describe promising railroad-highway grade-crossing traffic-control devices, discuss their likely effect on driver behavior and crashes (particularly in the long term if compliance is likely to decrease with familiarity), and estimate their life-cycle costs. Of particular interest are stop signs and yield signs used at the crossings and advance warning signs that distinguish between active (e.g., signals, gates) and passive crossings (only signs and markings). (4) Submit an interim report documenting the information developed in Tasks 1, 2, and 3. The interim report shall also include a detailed plan for evaluating some of the traffic control devices identified in Task 3 for which previous research is not available or sufficient. The interim report shall also include an outline of the project final report. (5) Evaluate the traffic control devices in accordance with the approved interim report. (6) Submit a final report that documents the entire research effort, recommends traffic-control devices based on the work performed in Tasks 3 and 5, and describes how they can be combined into systems. The report includes an updated implementation plan that discusses the responsibilities of transportation agencies and railroads.

Status: The published report has been submitted to the National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and the Federal Highway Administration for consideration in a future revision of the MUTCD.

Product Availability: The revised final report has published as NCHRP Report 470, Traffic-Control Devices for Passive Railroad-Highway Grade Crossings.

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