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Waseem Kiran
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How to Access and Use the FRA Crossing Inventory Data - Download Railroad Crossings Information for Safety and Research


Download Railroad Crossings: What You Need to Know




Railroad crossings are intersections where a railway line crosses a road, path, or runway at the same level, as opposed to using an overpass or tunnel. They are also known as level crossings, grade crossings, or rail crossings. Railroad crossings are essential for connecting different modes of transportation, facilitating trade and commerce, and ensuring public safety. However, they also pose some risks and challenges, such as collisions, delays, noise, and maintenance. In this article, we will explore what railroad crossings are, how they work, why they are important, and how you can download railroad crossings data and maps for your own use.


What are railroad crossings and why are they important?




Railroad crossings are places where trains and vehicles or pedestrians share the same space. They can be found in urban and rural areas, on highways and local roads, on public and private lands. Railroad crossings can be active or passive, depending on whether they have signs, signals, gates, or barriers to warn and control traffic. Active crossings have devices that activate automatically when a train approaches, such as flashing lights, bells, or gates. Passive crossings have signs or markings that indicate the presence of a crossing, but do not have any devices that activate when a train approaches.




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Railroad crossings are important for several reasons. First, they enable the movement of goods and people across different regions and countries. Railways are one of the most efficient and environmentally friendly modes of transportation, especially for bulk commodities, long distances, and intermodal connections. Railroad crossings allow railways to access various markets, industries, ports, airports, and terminals. Second, they enhance public safety and security. Railways can transport hazardous materials, military equipment, emergency supplies, and passengers safely and reliably. Railroad crossings help prevent accidents and incidents by regulating traffic flow and providing warnings. Third, they support economic development and social welfare. Railways can create jobs, reduce congestion, improve mobility, stimulate tourism, and foster community cohesion. Railroad crossings can improve access to education, health care, recreation, and culture.


Types of railroad crossings and how they work




There are different types of railroad crossings depending on the design, configuration, location, and jurisdiction of the crossing. Some of the common types are:


  • Crossbuck: A crossbuck is a sign that consists of two white boards with black letters that form an X shape. It indicates that drivers must yield to trains at the crossing. A crossbuck may also have a number plate that shows how many tracks are at the crossing.



  • Stop sign: A stop sign is a red octagonal sign with white letters that says STOP. It indicates that drivers must come to a complete stop before proceeding at the crossing. A stop sign may also have a number plate that shows how many tracks are at the crossing.



  • Flashing light signals: Flashing light signals are red lights that flash alternately when a train is approaching or occupying the crossing. They indicate that drivers must stop and wait until the lights stop flashing before proceeding at the crossing.



  • Gates: Gates are barriers that lower across the road when a train is approaching or occupying the crossing. They indicate that drivers must stop and wait until the gates rise before proceeding at the crossing.



  • Bells: Bells are devices that sound when a train is approaching or occupying the crossing. They indicate that drivers must pay attention to the crossing and follow the signs or signals at the crossing.



Some railroad crossings may have more than one type of sign or signal, such as a crossbuck with flashing light signals, or a stop sign with gates and bells. Some railroad crossings may also have additional features, such as pavement markings, advance warning signs, speed limit signs, or traffic lights.


Risks and challenges of railroad crossings




Railroad crossings are not without risks and challenges. Some of the common issues that affect railroad crossings are:


  • Collisions: Collisions are the most serious and fatal accidents that can occur at railroad crossings. They involve a train striking a vehicle or a person at the crossing. Collisions can be caused by various factors, such as driver error, poor visibility, malfunctioning equipment, or inadequate warning systems. According to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), there were 1,889 collisions at public railroad crossings in the US in 2020, resulting in 204 fatalities and 708 injuries.



  • Delays: Delays are the most frequent and frustrating inconveniences that can occur at railroad crossings. They involve a train blocking the road for a long period of time, preventing vehicles or pedestrians from crossing. Delays can be caused by various factors, such as train length, speed, frequency, or schedule. According to the FRA, there were 2,228 hours of blocked crossings reported in the US in 2020.



  • Noise: Noise is the most annoying and disturbing nuisance that can occur at railroad crossings. It involves a train sounding its horn or whistle when approaching or occupying the crossing. Noise can be caused by various factors, such as safety regulations, train speed, or proximity to residential areas. According to the FRA, there were 15,857 public railroad crossings with quiet zones in the US in 2020. A quiet zone is a section of rail line where trains do not have to sound their horns unless there is an emergency.



  • Maintenance: Maintenance is the most costly and complex responsibility that can occur at railroad crossings. It involves keeping the crossing in good condition and working order, repairing any damage or defects, and upgrading any outdated or obsolete equipment. Maintenance can be caused by various factors, such as weather, wear and tear, vandalism, or technology changes. According to the FRA, there were 129,582 public railroad crossings in the US in 2020. The maintenance of railroad crossings is shared by different entities, such as railroads, highway authorities, and local governments.



Benefits and advantages of railroad crossings




Railroad crossings are not all bad news. They also have some benefits and advantages that outweigh their drawbacks. Some of the positive aspects of railroad crossings are:


  • Safety: Safety is the most important and essential benefit of railroad crossings. They provide a safe and orderly way for trains and vehicles or pedestrians to cross each other's paths without colliding or interfering. They also prevent unauthorized access to rail tracks or property. Safety can be improved by various measures, such as education, enforcement, engineering, and evaluation. According to the FRA, the number of collisions at public railroad crossings in the US has decreased by 83% since 1981.



  • Efficiency: Efficiency is the most significant and valuable benefit of railroad crossings. They enable a fast and smooth flow of traffic across different modes of transportation without causing congestion or disruption. They also optimize the use of land and resources by minimizing the need for bridges or tunnels. Efficiency can be enhanced by various methods, such as coordination, communication, automation, and innovation. According to the FRA, the average train speed at public railroad crossings in the US has increased by 23% since 1981.



  • Sustainability: Sustainability is the most desirable and beneficial benefit of railroad crossings. They support a green and clean environment by reducing greenhouse gas emissions, fuel consumption, and air pollution from transportation. They also promote a healthy and livable community by providing access to jobs, services, and amenities. Sustainability can be achieved by various strategies, such as planning, collaboration, regulation, and investment. According to the FRA, the railroads in the US moved a ton of freight an average of 479 miles per gallon of fuel in 2019.



How to download railroad crossings data and maps




If you are interested in railroad crossings data and maps, you may wonder how to download them for your own use. There are many sources and websites that offer railroad crossings data and maps, but not all of them are reliable, accurate, or updated. Here are some of the best sources and websites for railroad crossings data and maps:


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