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A level crossing (a primarily British term; usually known as a railroad crossing in the United States) is an intersection where a railway line crosses a road or path at the same level, as opposed to the railway line crossing over or under using a bridge or tunnel. The term also applies when a light rail line with separate right-of-way or reserved track crosses a road in the same fashion. Other names include railway crossing, grade crossing, road through railroad, railroad crossing and train crossing.
Early level crossings had a flagman in a nearby booth who would, on the approach of a train, wave a red flag or lantern to stop all traffic and clear the tracks. Manual or electrical closable gates that barricaded the roadway were later introduced. The gates were intended to be a complete barrier against intrusion of any road traffic onto the railway. In the early days of the railways much road traffic was horsedrawn or included livestock. It was thus necessary to provide a real barrier. Thus, crossing gates, when closed to road traffic, crossed the entire width of the road. When opened to allow road users to cross the line, the gates were swung across the width of the railway, preventing any pedestrians or animals getting onto the line. The first U.S. patent for such crossing gates was awarded on 27 August 1867, to J. Nason and J. F. Wilson, both of Boston. With the appearance of motor vehicles, this barrier became less effective and the need for a barrier to livestock diminished dramatically. Many countries therefore replaced the gated crossings with weaker but more highly visible barriers and relied upon road users following the associated warning signals to stop.
At railway stations, a pedestrian level crossing is sometimes provided to allow passengers to reach other platforms in the absence of an underpass or bridge. Where third rail systems have level crossings, there is a gap in the third rail over the level crossing, but the power supply is not interrupted since trains have current collectors on multiple cars.
Level crossings constitute a significant safety concern internationally. On average, each year 400 people are killed in the European Union and over 300 in the United States in level crossing accidents. Collisions can occur with vehicles as well as pedestrians; pedestrian collisions are more likely to result in a fatality. Among pedestrians, young people (5–19 years), older people (60 years and over) and males are considered to be high risk users.
In terms of warning systems, level crossings are either passive crossings which have warnings such as signs, or active crossings which have automatic warning devices such as boom gates, flashing lights and warning tones. Fewer collisions take place at level crossings with active warning systems. Today radar sensor systems for automatic level crossing free detection are a cheap way to improve safety of level crossings.
Level crossings present a significant risk of collisions between trains and road vehicles. This list is not a definitive list of the world's worst accidents and the events listed are limited to those where a separate article describes the event in question.
|Langenweddingen level crossing disaster||94||Germany||1967|||
|Manfalut train accident||51||Egypt||2012|||
|Nagpur level crossing disaster||55||India||2005|||
|Marhanets train and bus collision||45||Ukraine||2010|||
|Villa Soldati level crossing tragedy||42||Argentina||1962||See article|
|Polgahawela level crossing accident||35||Sri Lanka||2005|||
|Dorion level crossing accident||19||Canada||1966|||
|2009 Slovak coach and train collision||12||Slovakia||2009|||
|Flores rail crash||11||Argentina||2011|||
|Bourbonnais train accident||11||United States||1999|||
|Hixon rail crash||11||United Kingdom||1968|||
|Kerang rail accident||11||Australia||2007|||
|Glendale train crash||11||United States||2005|||
|Lockington rail crash||9||United Kingdom||1986|||
|Gerogery level crossing accident||5||Australia||2001|||
|Fox River Grove level crossing accident||7||United States||1995|||
|Ufton Nervet rail crash||7||United Kingdom||2004|||
|Ottawa bus-train crash||6||Canada||2013|||
All Indonesia level crossings are operated automatically, but level crossings in Thailand, and Malaysia are still largely manually operated, where the barriers are lowered using a manual switch when trains approach. A significant number of crossings are without barriers. Railway electrification in Malaysia has gradually eliminated level crossings in Peninsular Malaysia, replacing those along nearly all upgraded lines with large overhead viaducts or deep underground tunnels, and simply cutting off non-essential crossings outright. Level crossings used to exist along the KTM railway line in Singapore, but these were removed after the closure of Tanjong Pagar Railway Station, and the moving of the KTM railway station to Woodlands Train Checkpoint. But there are still some that are used on the line between Port Klang - Westport (Pulau Indah). However, it seems like only the level crossing near Port Klang Komuter Station has the barrier.
Speed up campaigns have largely eliminated many crossings on heavily used trunk main lines though some still do exist. Most at-grade crossings in China are for smaller industrial spur and access lines which may or may not have crossing gates.
Most of Hong Kong's railway network is either underground or on elevated viaducts, meaning that level crossings are rare. However, level crossings continue to exist on the MTR Light Rail network, and one such level crossing was the site of a level crossing accident in 1994.
As of 2011, there are totally about 34,000 level crossings in Japan. Many rail lines in urban areas have been changed to viaduct or underground tracks, and the number of level crossings has decreased. Unlike many other countries, cars have to stop when passing level crossing in Japan because of the regulation in Road Traffic Act.
In some busy rail lines in Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya, there is a problem that so many trains pass that level crossing is always closed. In some crossings, more than 50 trains pass in an hour and the crossing opens only two minutes in an hour, and causes serious traffic congestion and inconvenience. (ja:開かずの踏切)
As most railways in Taiwan were built during Japanese administration, railway level crossings remain very common, though many urban crossings have been eliminated when the railroads have been moved underground, e.g., segments of the Western Line in Taipei City, or abolished, e.g. the former TRA Tamsui Line that is now the Taipei Metro Tamsui Line with no level crossings.
The Act Governing the Punishment of Violation of Road traffic Regulations (zh:道路交通管理處罰條例) defines three types of railway level crossing violations:
The same Act provides different penalties against different types of railway level crossing violators as follows, with very heavy penalties against drivers of motorized vehicles and much lighter penalties against drivers of non-motorized vehicles and pedestrians:
Accidents at railway level crossings remain a very serious concern. The Taiwan Railway Administration alone has hundreds of level crossings along its routes of slightly more than 1,100 kilometres (680 mi). In average, there is a level crossing in less than 2 kilometres (1.2 mi).
Red emergency buttons have been installed to allow the public to report an emergency at a level crossing, such as stalled vehicles or any obstacles that would be very dangerous should any train approach. However, willfully misusing the emergency button is a criminal offence. In an emergency, the public is asked to:
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At a level crossing, any overhead electric power cables must also cross. This led to a conflict where a mainline railway that crossed one of the country's once extensive interurban tram lines (vicinal or buurtspoorweg) was electrified. In at least one location, this led to the tram overhead being dismantled.
Automatic level crossings in Belgium have two red lights, a "moon-white" light and (usually) barriers. The white light flashes for half a second at regular intervals to inform drivers and pedestrians that they can cross the level crossing, and that the signal is in working order. In some cases the white light is absent; the Belgian traffic law of 1975 does not cover that situation.
In Finland, level crossings with warning lights have the more common red light(s) and a white light that flashes except when the red light(s) flash. Most, but not all, crossings with lights also have barriers. Full-length barriers are usually used only for pedestrian and bicycle lanes. Half-length barriers are used for motor roads, to avoid the risk of a vehicle being trapped on the tracks between the barriers. Bells begin to ring when the red lights start flashing and usually stop when the barriers have come down. Red-and-yellow crossbuck is used on both controlled and uncontrolled level crossings. If there are two or more tracks, the lower part of the cross is doubled. Only minor agricultural crossings might have no signs at all. On bigger roads there are usually also approach signs as seen in the picture. Finnish level crossings are the sixth safest in Europe. Finland's state railway system has over 3000 level crossings, according to TraFi. In Finland over the course of railway history many level crossing accidents have occurred, in comparison to other Scandinavian countries.
Level crossings in Italy, much as in the rest of Europe, can be:
In the Italian highway code, level crossings are called "Passaggi a Livello", often abbreviated to "P/L" on vertical and horizontal road signage.
Most level crossings have half barriers and bells. Those for pedestrians with an active warning system have full barriers. Three level crossings are operated remotely by staff from a traffic control center, using cameras; these have full barriers and no bells. Two level crossings for vehicles have full barriers, with a system to detect a vehicle been trapped; in this case the exit barriers are opened. Crossings with little road traffic and/or little rail traffic have no alarm, just warning signs.
From 1998-2008 the Norwegian rail administration (Jernbaneverket) removed about 1000 level crossings, leaving about 3500 still in use. 160 kilometres per hour (99 mph) is the maximum speed for trains over level crossings. In addition, Oslo's and Bergen's tram or light rail systems have some level crossings. Most lines on Oslo's metro (T-banen) are free of them. Most of the level crossings were removed from the old suburban railways in the western parts of the city, when the lines were upgraded to metro standard, but some crossings are retained on the Holmenkollen Line.
In Sweden there are 8,500 level crossings, according to Trafikverket, the Swedish Transport Administration (former Banverket, Swedish Rail Administration). On public roads they have light signals with or without gates. On private roads there are level crossings without signals. Most accidents occur on crossings without gates. For many years there have been activities to reduce the number of accidents, usually by adding gates, or adding light signals if there were none. On the main lines many bridges have been built, and also anywhere a new road or new railway has been built. Still there are some level crossings left on the main lines. A train speed of 200 km/h is allowed in Sweden over level crossings, if there are gates and an obstacle detection unit. This unit detects cars on the track and prevents the gates from closing fully and stops the train. According to Trafikverket in 15 years there has only been one serious collision between a car and a train on such a level crossing, when a car ran through the gates just in front of the train.
There were 8,200 level crossings in the UK in 2005, of which 1,600 were road crossings. This number is gradually being reduced as the risk of accident at level crossings is considered high. The director of the UK Railway Inspectorate commented in 2004 that "the use of level crossings contributes the greatest potential for catastrophic risk on the railways." Bridges and tunnels are now favoured, and there is a commitment on the part of UK rail authorities not to build new level crossings, and to reduce the number of existing level crossings. The cost of making significant reductions, other than by simply closing the crossings, is substantial; some commentators argue that the money could be better spent. Some 6500 crossings are user-worked crossings or footpaths with very low usage. The removal of crossings can also improve train performance as some crossings have low rail speed limits enforced on them to protect road users. In fact, between 1845 and 1933, a 4 mph speed limit was nationally in force over level crossings.
In the United Kingdom, major crossings were normally situated within easy sight of a signal box, and usually directly adjacent to the signal box. This ensured that the signalman could verify that the road was clear before allowing a train onto the crossing. The traditional form of road crossing on British railways from the mid 19th century consisted of four wooden gates (two on each side of the railway). These prevented road traffic from crossing when closed, and when open lay across the railway to prevent horses and livestock inadvertently escaping from the road to the railway. Many gated crossings have been replaced by lifting barriers, which are easier to mechanise. "Full barriers" consist of barriers each side of the track, which block the full width of the road and "half barriers" consist of a single arm each side of the road, which block only oncoming traffic. Half barriers were considered to have an advantage as motorists are less likely to be stranded on the crossing and unable to exit, but cases where impatient motorists have driven around the barriers have raised safety concerns. Video cameras are now often used at crossings to allow the human operator to be some distance from the crossing. On lightly used railways many crossings are sited next to station stops or other stopping points and are crew operated. The guard pushes a plunger to operate the crossing. On completion of the crossing sequence, an indicator light permits the train to proceed if the crossing is observed by the train driver to be clear. After the train has cleared the crossing, it re-opens to road traffic. In Ireland, instead of an open crossing there may be manually operated gates, which the motorist must open and close. These have significant risks, as they are unsafe to use without a knowledge of the train timetable; motorists may be instructed to telephone the railway signaller, but may not always do so.
To ensure that the barriers are noticed and to draw attention, public road crossings may be fitted with a warning bell or siren and with lights. Some crossings also have telephones which connect to the relevant signal box, so that in case of an emergency, or a large slow moving vehicle wanting to use the crossing, the signalman's attention can be drawn promptly to the hazard and action can be taken. Some "automatic open crossings", with warning lights and bells but no barriers, were introduced, but their expansion was largely halted after the Lockington rail crash. Some smaller crossings, particularly pedestrian crossings on low-speed lines, have only a warning sign and raised pathway across the track itself.
In November 2004 there were two major accidents on UK level crossings: one involved a car driver committing suicide, who caused the death of seven people (Ufton Nervet rail crash); another involved a train carrying 50 school children; this resulted in no fatalities but a number of injuries. These incidents have increased efforts to review the placing of level crossings and to eliminate them where this is practicable. In the UK it has also been suggested that cameras similar to the type used to detect drivers who run traffic lights be deployed at level crossings, and that penalties for ignoring signals should be much more severe. British Transport Police typically prosecute motorists who jump the barriers for either trespass or failing to conform with a traffic signal. A particular problem has been that the responsibility for road safety at crossings is entirely outside the control of the railways. In 2006 there were legal proposals to permit Network Rail to be involved in the road side safety of crossings. This would allow the introduction of anti-slip surfaces and also barriers to prevent motorists driving around crossing arms and, it is hoped, reduce the number of crossing related deaths.
The use of pedestrian crossings at stations is now rare in more modern countries, although in the past it was common for passengers to walk across the line between platforms. It is still common in many countries, and on lines with less traffic.
At Settle, for example, before the footbridge was installed in the 1990s, while passengers from Leeds walked across the line the driver's kettle was topped up with hot water. With a few exceptions, such as at Carmarthen, the remaining such crossings are on heritage railways or are used to let passengers who cannot climb stairs to the footbridge move between platforms.
For the episode of British motoring television programme Top Gear on 25 February 2007, Network Rail staged an incident in which a locomotive was driven into a Renault Espace at around 80 mph to graphically illustrate the dangers of "running the risk" (see British Rail Class 31 in the media).
"Modular" level crossing barriers were considered by Network Rail when they introduced a new modular building system in 2008. The term "modular" means that they can be assembled and installed in just a few hours.
Grade crossing protection practices in Canada are virtually identical to those in the United States (see below) using the same alternating flashing red lights and gate arms. The only significant differences are the crossbuck signs, which have no wording but are white with a red outline, and the advance-warning sign, which is a yellow diamond shape with a diagram of a track crossing a straight segment of road (similar to a crossroads sign, except that the horizontal road is replaced by a track). Before changes in regulations mandated bilingual (English and French) or no-wording signs, crossbucks were nearly identical to those in the States, except that they read "Railway Crossing" instead of "Railroad Crossing." The red lights also flash a little faster than in the United States.
Every crossing, whether above grade, below grade, or at grade, is required to be assigned a unique identifier which is a six-digit number and a trailing letter used as a checksum. This identifier is called a Grade Crossing Number, and is usually posted with a sign or sticker on the sign or equipment. This allows a particular crossing anywhere in the United States to be precisely identified as to its exact location in the event of an incident involving that crossing.
All public crossings in the United States are required to be marked by at least a crossbuck. The 2009 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices requires passive crossings (crossings without actuated flashing lights or gates) to have either stop signs or yield signs in addition to the crossbuck, unless a flagger will stop traffic every time a train approaches. Normally a yield sign is used, unless it is determined that all vehicles should stop at the crossing, such as a location with poor sight distance. All passive crossings must be upgraded to meet this standard by December 31, 2019.
If the crossing has more than one railroad track, the crossbuck is required to have a small sign beneath it denoting the number of tracks.
As traffic on the road crossing or the rail crossing increases, safety features are increased accordingly. More heavily trafficked crossings have automatic warning devices (AWDs), with alternately flashing red lights to warn automobile drivers and a bell to warn pedestrians. Additional safety is attained through crossing gates that block automobiles' approach to the tracks when activated. Increasingly, crossings are being fitted with four-quadrant gates to prevent circumventing the gates.
Operation of a typical AWD-equipped railroad crossing in the United States is as follows:
Some AWD track circuits are equipped with motion detectors that deactivate the crossing signal if the train stops or slows significantly before arriving at the crossing.
As indicated above, the pattern of the bells at each individual crossing can be different. (These bells should not be confused with the bells that are mounted on the trains.) Generally, the bells follow one of these patterns:
Some level crossings that are located too close to intersections with traffic lights program the signals so when the approaching train trips the track circuit, it not only activates the crossing signals, but also changes the traffic lights facing the crossing to green, to clear any traffic that may be queued on the crossing. If the intersection's stop line is right before the tracks (typically sharing the crossing's stop line), the track circuits would change the traffic lights to red (often without a yellow phase.) Some track circuits place the signals into flash mode the entire time the AWDs are active.
In cases where railroads share the right of way with vehicular traffic, simple railroad preemption may cause an all-red flash in traffic lights.
A few level crossings still use wigwag signals, which were developed in the early 1900s by the Pacific Electric Railway interurban system in the Los Angeles region to protect its many level crossings. Though now considered to be antique, around 100 such signals are still in use, almost all on branch lines. By law, these signals must be replaced by the now-standard alternating red lights when they are retired.
US Federal Railroad Administration regulations restrict trains to a maximum speed of 110 mph (177 km/h) at standard grade crossings. Crossings are permitted up to 125 mph (201 km/h) only if an "impenetrable barrier" is in place to block traffic when a train approaches. Crossings are prohibited at speeds in excess of 125 mph (201 km/h).
A track that will run high-speed trains in excess of 120 miles per hour (190 km/h) is being tested in Illinois between Chicago and St. Louis, Missouri. Here, due to the high speed of the trains, gates that totally prevent road traffic from reaching the tracks are mandatory on all level crossings. Steel mesh nets were tested on some crossings to further prevent collisions, but these were removed because of maintenance issues in 2001.
A new device called "StopGate" has been installed at four locations, one in Madison, Wisconsin; another in Monroe, Wisconsin and two in Santa Clara, California (on a light rail system). This system resembles a fortified version of a standard crossing gate, with two larger arms blocking the entire width of the roadway and locking into a securing device on the side of the road opposite the gate pivot mechanism. The gate arms are reinforced with high-strength steel cable, which helps the gate absorb the impact of a vehicle attempting to crash through the gate. The manufacturer claims that the StopGate can stop a 2,000 kilograms (4,400 lb) truck within 13 feet (4.0 m). Already the system has been tested at the Madison crossing, when the system stopped a truck while a Wisconsin and Southern Railroad train was in the crossing.
Another new type of barrier is being tested in Michigan that is hoped will reduce the number of times drivers attempt to drive around lowered crossing gates. The new devices are called "delineators" consisting of a series of flexible bollards that raise vertically out of vertical tubes in the pavement when the crossing signal is activated. The delineators are designed so that they will not be broken and will not damage vehicles if they are hit, allowing vehicles to exit the level crossing if they are already within it when the gates are activated. The test period for the new barrier began on 5 December 2007, and will run for a period of 17 months.
In the United States and in countries following United States practices, a locomotive must have a bright headlight and ditch lights (two lights located below the headlight), a working bell, and a whistle or horn that must be sounded four times (long-long-short-long), similar to the signal for the International Morse Code letter "Q", as the train approaches the crossing.
Some American cities, in the interest of noise abatement, have passed laws prohibiting the sounding of bells and whistles; however, their ability to enforce such rules is debatable. In December 2003 the US Federal Railroad Administration published regulations that would create areas where train horns could be silenced, provided that certain safety measures were put in place, such as concrete barriers preventing drivers from circumventing the gates or automatic whistles (also called Wayside horns) mounted at the crossing (which reduce noise pollution to nearby neighborhoods). Implementation of the new "Quiet Zone" Final Rule was delayed repeatedly but was finally implemented in the summer of 2005. Rail "Quiet Zone" crossings still require bells as part of the (AWDs) in addition to the wayside horns. The wayside horns usually are sets of speakers that are directed at the crossing mounted right up on a pole. These audible devices are not similar to a train horn.
Mexico has also begun to install US-style crossing signals on some of its KCS de Mexico, Ferromex,& Ferrosur rail lines. Although the majority of rail crossings in Mexico remain with just a crossbuck and unsignalled. The crossing devices are very similar to the US models although sporting larger lights, they read "Cruce de ferrocarril", the majority are solar operated & the lights flash faster than the US signals. Unfortunately, these devices are easy targets for vandals as they steal their components such as gate motors and solar panels. In many cases the gates do not lower due to vandalism or lack of maintenance. In some cases due to the lack of maintenance, the lights do not turn on at all. The rail companies, which by law are required to maintain the crossing signals, take little to no action in maintaining these devices and the majority remain unmaintained, posing a threat to drivers.
Australian railways generally follow United States practices, and they have increasingly been employing American-made crossing warning equipment, such as level crossing predictors, which are able to provide a consistent amount of warning time for trains of widely varying speeds.
There are many different types of rail crossings in Australia, as the railways that run through rural areas often do not have barriers or even lights/bells to warn of incoming trains, urban crossings will either have lights and bells or lights, bells, and boomgates
In Melbourne, there are several level crossings where electrified train tracks cross roads with electrified tram tracks. These crossings are fitted with equipment to change the voltage supplied to the overhead wiring depending on the vehicle using the crossing at that point in time. Trains are severely speed-limited across these intersections.
Although all cases where a train line crosses a road are level crossings whether or not they are signed, a tram track in its own right of way crossing a road can also be a level crossing if it is signed with a crossbuck reads either "TRAM WAY CROSSING" or "RAIL WAY CROSSING". Otherwise, it is a regular intersection and usually has either traffic lights or a give way sign facing the road (see Gallery).
Some recent innovations in Australia are to provide crossbucks with a pair of flashing yellow lights at about 200m before the level crossing, particularly where there are curves and visibility problems on the road, called Advance Active Warning Signals (AAWS). These are used where road speeds are high, and braking distances are extended, and/or where the level crossing is obscured by blind curves and/or sunlight.
Another innovation is to transmit level crossing warning signals by radio into the cabin of nearby vehicles. This would be particularly useful at passive crossings, not yet fitted with flashing lights.
There are 1390 public road level crossings in New Zealand. Of those, 275 crossings are protected by flashing red lights, bells and half-arm barriers, and 421 are protected by flashing red lights and bells only. The remainder are controlled by Stop and Give Way signs. Level crossings are the responsibility of rail infrastructure owner KiwiRail Network, the New Zealand Transport Agency, and if the crossing is on a local road, the local city or district council.
On the Taieri Gorge line and the Hokitika Branch, in rural South Island, New Zealand, roads and railways share the same bridge when crossing a river, with the rail line in the road. Motorists, as well as giving way to oncoming traffic if required (the bridges have one lane) must ensure that the bridge is clear of a train, end to end, before starting to cross the bridge. For safety, trains are limited to 10 km/h (6 mph) while crossing the bridges.
In many parts of New Zealand, railway lines run parallel to and close (within 10–15 metres (33–49 ft)) to roads. Many level crossing accidents have been caused by drivers turning right into side roads crossing the railway line concentrating on finding a suitable gap in oncoming traffic so that they fail to check the railway line or notice the activated level crossing alarms until it is too late to stop. An accident of this type occurred in August 1993 at Rolleston, near Christchurch, when a cement mixer truck turned right off State Highway 1 and collided with the side of a southbound Southerner passenger train, ripping open two carriages. The accident resulted in three deaths, including the sister of New Zealand international cricketer Chris Cairns.
Bishton level crossing in Wales is unusual in that it is partly replaced by an underpass for low clearance cars, leaving the level crossing for high clearance trucks. There are many similar crossings on the line between London Liverpool Street and King's Lynn (built by the Great Eastern Railway Company), including at Ely and Great Chesterford, and also near Cambridge Science Park on the former Cambridge & St. Ives Branch (this is now used only by pedestrians and cyclists). The level crossing at Manningtree in Essex also has this arrangement.
A level crossing near Gisborne, sees the Palmerston North - Gisborne Line cross one of Gisborne Airport's runways. Aircraft landing on sealed 1310-metre runway 14L/32R are signalled with two red flashing lights on either side of the runway and a horizontal bar of flashing red lights to indicate the runway south of the railway line is closed, and may only land on the 866 metres (2,841 ft) section of the runway north of the railway line. When the full length of the runway is open, a vertical bar of green lights signal to the aircraft, with regular rail signals on either side of the runway indicating trains to stop.
||This section contains a gallery of images.|
A new Finnish warning sign at Loimaa. It is inexpensive and intended for lightly trafficked roads.
A railroad crossing in Belton, Missouri, United States, equipped only with crossbuck, flashing lights, and warning bell
A fence or chicane may prevent pedestrians running across the track.
Level crossing in Katori, Chiba, Japan
A grade crossing with road gates. Some crossings, such as this one in Acton, Massachusetts, United States, are also equipped with sidewalk gates.
An ungated pedestrian crossing west of the station in Islip, New York, United States
A level crossing with flashing lights but no barriers on the Tyne and Wear Metro, England, United Kingdom
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