Railroad Accidents

Railroad tracks that intersect with roadways are called "grade crossings" as they are both on the same grade or elevation.  To reasonably protect the highway users from the much heavier and difficult-to-stop trains we use several levels of passive and active traffic control devices.  Some grade crossings have simple black and white crossbuck signs while others have large arrays of gates, flashing lights, bells, signs, and pavement markings.

And, crossings should have warning signs alerting approaching roadway users to the presence of the track and the actions required of the roadway users or alternately the prohibitions placed on the roadway users in the area of the tracks.  Examples include the common black and yellow railroad crossing sign and the do-not-stop-on-tracks sign.

Rail-highway grade crossings close to roadway-roadway intersections that are controlled by traffic signals require a specialized crash investigation should the crash have happened at either intersection.  When traffic signals are close to a grade crossing they are often connected to the railroad gates, lights, and bells.  These traffic signals may have phasing plans that allow the signal to clear traffic away from the tracks when a train is approaching, to operate "pre-empted" traffic patterns while the train is present, and to then return the traffic to normal operation after a train leaves the crossing. 

Some of the crossing traffic control devices are installed and owned by the railroad, and others are installed and owned by the highway agency.  A careful review of the crossing devices present at the time of a crash and their appropriateness along with a review of the applicable national and state standards for grade crossings are important parts of a grade crossing accident case investigation.

Mr. Marceau has designed traffic control devices for many highway-railroad grade crossings including sophisticated traffic signal interconnections with multiple-track crossings.  And, he has investigated many train-vehicle and vehicle-vehicle crashes at both grade crossings and at the adjacent roadway signalized intersections.  He has experience teaching other engineers, attorneys, and police officers how grade crossings and adjacent traffic signals operate, and their role in traffic accidents.

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