Traffic Control Devices and Barrier Systems at Grade Crossings: Literature Review

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - traffic, infrastructure - vehicle, planning - surveys, ridership - drivers, ridership - behaviour, mode - rail, literature review - literature review


Warning signs, Traffic signs, signals and markings, Traffic signs and signals, Traffic markings, Traffic control devices, Road markings, Recommendations, Railroad grade crossings, Pavement markings, Motor vehicle operators, Literature surveys, Literature reviews, Level crossings, Human behavior, Highway signs, signals and markings, Highway railroad grade crossings, Highway rail intersections, Grade crossings, Grade crossing signals, Grade crossing protection systems, Drivers, Compliance, Carriageway markings, Behaviour, Behavior, Barriers (Roads), Active grade crossing warning systems


Accidents at grade crossings are a significant concern to the railroad industry, and a large proportion of these accidents are the result of driver error. To understand drivers’ decisions and actions, FRA sponsored the Volpe National Transportation Systems Center in the conduct of a literature review of research from 1990 to 2006 examining driver behavior at grade crossings. This review is intended to update the 1990 report "Driver Behavior at Rail-Highway Crossings" and to provide input for developing countermeasures to discourage dangerous driving behavior. This paper summarizes a small portion of the problem and presents findings from the review addressing the design and effectiveness of grade crossing traffic control devices and barrier systems. Although drivers generally understand that a grade crossing is nearby upon seeing one of five warning devices (crossbuck, advance warning sign, pavement markings, flashing light signals, and automatic gates), the precise meaning of the devices and the driver action required may not be well discriminated. This paper addresses the design of signs and presents the results of evaluations examining driver detection, comprehension, and compliance with current and proposed warning sign systems; discusses a way to improve the design of pavement markings; examines the causes for noncompliance at active crossings and considers ways to improve compliance by introducing barrier systems and by improving warning device credibility; and makes recommendations for practitioners and suggestions for additional research.