Pedestrian Safety Guide and Countermeasure Selection System


A railroad crossing with a variety of passive devices including fencing and signs. Source: Flickr - Donald Lee Pardue (2010)




Pedestrian Safety at Railroad Crossings

There are a number of ways pedestrian safety can be improved at railroad crossings by selectively using passive and/or active devices. Passive devices include: fencing; channelization; swing gates; pedestrian barriers; pavement markings and texturing; refuge areas; and fixed message signs; raising the approaches to the track and the area between the tracks to the level of the top of the rail creating flat level areas to cross; designing crossings so that the pedestrian paths of travel intersect the railroad track at a 90 degree angle, minimizing problems with the flangeway gap width through design and/or an approved flangeway filler; and widening the crosswalk when a perpendicular crossing cannot be provided so that pedestrians have room to maneuver and position themselves to cross the tracks at a 90 degree angle. Active devices include flashers; audible active warning devices; automated pedestrian gates; pedestrian signals; variable message signs; and blank-out signs.17,18 The MUTCD requires the use of railroad crossing “crossbuck” signs whenever railroad tracks intersect a public roadway or pathway.

Crossings being considered for safety improvements should be reviewed by a diagnostic team and undergo an engineering study to select the appropriate warning devices for each crossing. Crossing types that may benefit from such review and study include: crossings with a high volume of pedestrian traffic; frequent and/or high speed trains; extremely wide crossings; complex rail crossings; school zones; inadequate sight distance; and/or multiple tracks. All pedestrian railroad crossings should be designed to minimize the time required for pedestrians to cross, with emphasis on avoiding entrapment of pedestrians on or between sets of tracks.

The implementation of these measures should be accompanied by increased education, through Public Service Announcements, added information in a state’s Driver’s Education Manual, educational initiatives and school presentations, etc. In addition, rail safety laws that prohibit dangerous actions around rail crossings should be enforced. Operation Lifesaver is a program that promotes safety near rail facilities. More information may be found on this program at:


Railroad crossings can present safety issues for pedestrians, particularly those using wheeled devices such as wheelchairs and scooters. They also pose a risk to pedestrians using headphones and/or who are hearing impaired. Nearly every three hours in the United States, a person or vehicle is hit by a train.16 Public railroad crossings (per the MUTCD) are required to have certain passive devices; active devices should be installed at those crossings where an engineering study has recommended their use.


• A combination of audible and visual devices should be used to serve the accessibility needs of hearing-impaired and visually-impaired pedestrians.
• For a detailed look at prevalent and best practices, and also adopted standards relative to highway-rail grade crossings, see “Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook.”19.
• For an example of a state’s short-term action plan to improve safety near railroads, see “New Jersey Safety Along Railroads – Short-Term Action Plan.”20
• The Federal Railroad Administration has a list, as of 2008, of pedestrian warning devices in use at railroad crossings, entitled “Compilation of Pedestrian Safety Devices In Use at Grade Crossings.”21
• The Federal Railroad Administration also has a guidebook intended to improve railroad safety, “Guidance on Pedestrian Crossing Safety at or Near Passenger Stations.”22

Estimated Cost

Costs can vary widely depending on site conditions, improvements needed, and existing infrastructure. Enhancing at-grade crossings (to connect platforms) and adding flashers and bells costs approximately $50,000 to $300,000. Creating a pedestrian overcrossing or underpass can range from $1.5 million or higher.

Case Studies