Trains have a long history and bright future, as they have been around longer than cars have. The federal government's investment in Amtrak in the 1970s signaled a new life for the technology, as it now serves over 30 million passengers per year.
Additionally, locomotives are efficient for shipping cargo and smaller light rail trains are useful for inner city public transportation. Automobiles must stop for trains instead of the other way around, with the help of railroad crossing signs to alert drivers.
Various Railroad Crossing Signs
Even though most drivers know a railroad sign when they see one, they may not know the difference between a public and private crossing sign. Private crossings do not require advance signs and are usually placed on roads maintained by private entities. Public railroad crossing signs are yellow and round with a black "X" that separates 2 "R" letters.
These signs accompany similar pavement markings installed by local or state officials, who also determine if flashing lights are necessary. Warning devices are considered "active" when electronic flashing lights are included and "passive" without them. At sites with multiple tracks, there may be a sign such as "3 Tracks" that identifies the number of tracks. In those scenarios, drivers must watch for a second train after the first has passed.
A white "crossbuck" sign shaped like an "X" with black lettering is separate from the other markings and is installed by the railroad. Crossbuck signs are the most common passive warnings for drivers near railroad tracks and are treated as yield signs. There should be a blue Emergency Notification System sign near a crossbuck sign that provides an emergency phone number for drivers to call if they get involved in a collision. Each sign includes a unique USDOT Crossing Number to identify its location.
RXR Sign Placement
States decide which crossings should use signs based on traffic patterns, vehicle types that use the crossings, number of trains per day and the crossing's accident history. For safety reasons, officials try to limit the number of crossings where train tracks intersect with city streets.
In some cases, officials may decide to include a stop or yield sign at the intersection in addition to railroad crossing signs. The crossing signs, funded by the federal government, must meet standards set by the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). Although motorists are protected by electronic gates, flashing lights and the conductor's horn, accidents can still occur due to driver distractions.
Railroad Accident Data
Each month, several train collisions still occur around the world, although the number of fatalities and injuries is much lower than from car crashes. The number of rail accidents and casualties has dropped significantly in the United States since the 1980s.
According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), a division of the U.S. Department of Transportation, there were 9,461 rail collisions in 1981. By 2010, the number dropped to 2,051 with similar stats through 2020. Rail accident fatalities in that same time frame fell from 728 to 260, while injuries declined from 3,293 to 887. In 2019, about 68 percent of all highway-rail grade crossing collisions occurred in 15 states with Texas, California and Florida experiencing the most accidents, injuries and deaths.
Railroad crossing signs serve an important safety purpose for alerting drivers when they are approaching train tracks. Drivers must always be aware that trains move faster than they appear and are not able to stop quickly. Contact Zumar at our Arizona, California or Washington location for more information.