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An investigation into the use of highway traffic signals at highway-railroad grade crossings
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Rail-highway grade crossings are amongst the most dangerous of intersections a driver will encounter. One out of every nine accidents at rail-highway crossings produces a fatality. In half of these cases, the crossing is an active crossing, meaning that active devices such as flashing lights with or without automatic gates signal the approach of a train. Annually, approximately 250 people die in crashes with trains at active crossings. Another form of active protection is the use of highway traffic signals. Highway traffic signals have been used as a form of active rail-highway crossing control in several states. The Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices currently prohibits the use of highway traffic signals on mainline track crossings even though these devices are a well understood and common traffic control device at highway-highway intersections, particularly in urban environments where the majority of active crossings are to be found. The objective of this research was to determine the factors that contribute to fatal vehicle train crashes at rail-highway crossings equipped with either flashing light signals, flashing light signals with automatic gates, or highway traffic signals. Secondly, it attempted to determine whether the use of highway traffic signals at railhighway crossings offer any safety benefits over the use of conventional active traffic control devices. Fatal accident records obtained from the Fatal Accident Reporting System (FARS) were used in this analysis. The driver related factors coded by the police officers in FARS, at fatal active grade crossing locations, were predominantly driver error factors. Three contributing factors that were common to all active crossing fatalities were the involvement of young drivers (less than 30 years old), drunk drivers and the lack signals appeared to offer safety benefits over the other standard active devices with regards to the above three contributing factors, the apparent benefit may be due to the fact that highway traffic signals experience lower night time train volumes. The accuracy of the FARS database description of the traffic control device was also of concern, after a cross check with the DOT/AAR database was performed.
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Includes bibliographical references: p. 75-79.
Issued also on microfiche from Lange Micrographics.
Frieslaar, Andre Henry (1997). An investigation into the use of highway traffic signals at highway-railroad grade crossings. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from
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