June 12, 2014 12:00PM (ET)

Pedestrian/Bicyclist Warning Devices and Signs at Highway-Rail and Pathway-Rail Grade Crossings

Federal reporting shows a relatively constant number of pedestrian and bicycle fatalities at highway-rail and pathway-rail grade crossings over the past ten years. This is in contrast to a marked decrease in train–vehicle collisions at highway-rail crossings. There is limited research on the subject of how to reduce the number of collisions between trains and pedestrians and bicyclists at highway-rail and pathway-rail grade crossings.

The objective of the study was to (a) highlight thematic areas, specific issues and context sensitive countermeasures related to pedestrian safety at rail grade crossings, and (b) discuss issues related to attitudes and behavior of pedestrians at rail grade crossings.  The discussion has implications for the design and placement of signs and warning systems at pedestrian-rail grade crossings are also documented and advance our understanding about the effectiveness of such safety measures.

The study highlights the multitude of factors related to pedestrian safety and provides an informed discussion for stakeholders to advance safety initiatives.  The focus of this discussion is on individuals who utilize legally authorized highway-rail crossings with pedestrian access, or legally authorized pathway-rail crossings.  Such highway-rail and pathway-rail crossings can be identified as they will have a U.S. DOT inventory number assigned to the location (e.g. 372133T).  Individuals crossing railroad tracks at locations other than legally designated locations are trespassing upon private property.  While trespassing is a major public safety issue, it is not the focus of this research.

An extensive review of the pertinent published literature concerning pedestrian safety related to highway-rail and pathway-rail grade crossings found a distinct lack of any standards to analyze/quantify pedestrian risk and design effective treatments to reduce the risk to pedestrians from being struck by a train.  The primary findings from the literature review include:

  1. There is a wide variety of MUTCD compliant signs and devices used to warn pedestrians of the presence of a crossing, as well as the approach of a train. There are also a large number of non-compliant MUTCD signs and devices utilized.
  2. The warning signs and devices include: pavement markings, detectable warnings (e.g., audible tones, verbal messages, and/or vibrating surfaces), channelization devices (e.g., different types of fencing, swing gates, zigzag/Z-gates, corrals), audible/visual warnings (e.g., low-rise flashing pedestrian signals, multi-use path flashing light signals), automatic pedestrian gates (e.g., short gate arms), and “second train coming” electronic warning signs.
  3. The effectiveness to reduce the risk of a collision between a pedestrian and a train of any particular sign or device is unknown.
  4. A number of criteria are used to select warning devices for deployment at pedestrian–rail grade crossings, including pedestrian collision experience at the crossing, frequency of inclement weather, pedestrian volumes and peak flows, train speeds, number of trains, railroad traffic patterns, surrounding land uses, sight distance for pedestrians approaching the crossing, skew angle of the crossing relative to the railroad tracks, existence of multiple tracks, vicinity to a commuter station, and installation/maintenance costs.
  5. Few existing methodologies allow for assessing trade-offs among those factors during the selection process, and the potential of newer approaches is not well understood.
  6. There is no commonly accepted method to quantify the risk to pedestrian of being struck by a train at either a highway-rail crossing with pedestrian access, or a dedicated stand-alone pathway-rail crossing.

View Report | View pdf copy of slides

Presenters: Dr. P.S. Sriraj and Dr. Paul Metaxatos, Urban Transportation Center at the University of Illinois at Chicago



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1 Comment
  1. Hello: Thanks to all who participated in the June 12 webinar, and thanks to Joel Volinski, Stephanie Lewis and everyone at CUTR for this opportunity. As noted during the Q&A session, Dr. Sriraj and Dr. Metaxatos are in the process of completing new research into pedestrian/cyclist safety — but exclusively at Chicago Transit Authority rapid transit grade crossings in the City of Chicago. We’ll keep all up to date on developments.

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