Cambridge, MA: Volpe Center grade crossing research reports 2014

2 Feb

During 2014, Volpe Center, a US Department of Transportation facility in Cambridge, MA published the following research reports in 2014.

Driver Performance on Approach to Crossbuck and STOP Sign Equipped Crossings

In order to improve safe driving behavior at grade crossings, it is important to understand driver actions at or on approach to those areas. Thus, in order to gain a better understanding of the problem, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Office of Research and Development funded a project to study driver activities at or on approach to grade crossings. The findings are discussed in the FRA report titled Driver Behavior Analysis at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings using Field Operational Test Data—Light Vehicles (

The analysis presented herein is based on follow-on research related to the findings discussed in the aforementioned report. The analysis focused on studying the effect of crossbucks only and crossbucks with STOP signs on driver behavior by examining braking activity and speed profiles on approach to such crossings.

The analysis was performed using recently collected data on drivers’ activities at or on approach to grade crossings from the Integrated Vehicle Based Safety Systems (IVBSS) Field Operational Test (FOT) sponsored by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The FOT included 108 participants and 16 research vehicles. Figure 1 shows a research vehicle on approach to a crossing equipped with crossbucks.

The IVBSS light vehicle FOT contained 4,215 grade crossing events, or instances, in which the research vehicle traversed a grade crossing. Of those, 211 events occurred at passive crossings equipped with crossbucks only or crossbucks and STOP signs at which there were no vehicles in front of the research vehicle. The analysis of this data set indicates that speed reductions are much greater and occur sooner at crossings equipped with STOP signs than at crossings equipped with crossbucks only. Older drivers (60–70 years old) approached crossings more slowly and slowed down more than younger (20–30 years old) and middle-aged (40–50 years old) drivers. Results showed no gender difference.

Braking activity analysis revealed that almost all drivers applied brakes on approach to crossings equipped with STOP signs compared with 56 percent at crossings equipped with crossbucks only. Male and middle-aged drivers applied brakes slightly more often than their counterparts on approach to crossbucks only crossings.

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Effect of an Active Another Train Coming Warning System on Pedestrian Behavior at a Highway-Rail Grade Crossing

pasted-image-19The John A. Volpe National Transportation Systems Center (Volpe Center) was tasked by the FRA Office of Research and Development with evaluating the effectiveness of an active Another Train Coming Warning System (ATCWS) to mitigate pedestrian violations at a double track highway-rail grade crossing. Specifically, the Volpe Center was tasked to determine the effectiveness of a second train warning signage system at a New Jersey Transit Rail (NJ Transit Rail) grade crossing.

NJ Transit Rail selected a grade crossing along the Bergen County Line at Outwater Lane (grade crossing ID# 263413V) in Garfield, NJ, to pilot test the second train signage safety enhancement. The enhancement, consisting of an active visual second train sign complemented by an auditory warning, became operational on August 6, 2012. The Volpe Center research team collected video data on pedestrian movements before and after the installation to observe any changes in pedestrian behavior.

Data were collected between April 11th, 2012, and May 2nd, 2013. A total of 438 second train events, 193 before installation and 245 after installation, were recorded during this data collection process. Overall, the percent of pedestrians who chose to violate the crossing (either while the gates were descending, horizontal, or ascending) did not change after the installation of the second train warning system. In fact, the total number of violators increased from 120 prior to the installation of the signage to 130 after the signage had been installed, though this change was not statistically significant (Z = 0.904, P>0.05). There was, however, a notable change in the number of pedestrians who violated while the gates were horizontal and crossed the tracks between the two trains. These incidents were reduced by 50 percent—from 22 prior to the signage to 11 after the signage. Equally noteworthy was the number of pedestrians who violated while the gates were horizontal and crossed the tracks prior to the arrival of Train 1. That number increased from zero prior to the installation of the signage to nine after. Though the sample size is too small to offer definitive conclusions, the findings seem to indicate that the warning system may have altered pedestrians’ decision making about when to violate (i.e., violate prior to either train arriving instead of waiting to violate between trains) and not if they should violate.

There are several limitations that make it difficult to conclusively determine the effectiveness of this type of warning system from the data provided in the report. First, Hurricane Sandy caused very significant changes in the schedules of the NJ Transit system in the fall of 2012. Secondly, the small sample size and changes in ridership in this data collection make it difficult to assess any differential effects that the signage has on groups. It may be possible that pedestrians in large groups will act differently than those alone at the crossing.

However, the limited data collection period and variation in the number of pedestrians at the crossing (from zero to nine) made assessments of the impacts of groups difficult. Lastly, in addition to the installation of the signage and speakers, other large changes were made to the crossing during the study timeframe, including the addition of channelizing guard rails in one location and lengthening of existing guard rails in another. The actual impact of those other modifications is unknown, but does make it difficult to assess the true impact of the second train warning system alone.

Ultimately, this study does not provide any conclusive evidence that the system implemented at Outwater Lane was effective in promoting cautious pedestrian behavior. Because of the aforementioned limitations, further testing will be needed to determine the actual impact of the ATCWS.

Effect of Dynamic Envelope Pavement Markings on Vehicle Driver Behavior at a Highway-Rail Grade Crossing

pavementThere are more than 212,000 highway-rail grade crossings in the United States. Deaths resulting from highway-rail grade crossing collisions and trespasser events account for approximately 95 percent of all rail-related fatalities each year. In 2013, there were 2,087 incidents at these 1 highway-rail grade crossings. Of the 2,087 incidents, there were 943 injuries and 250 fatalities. In addition to the injuries and loss of life that occur at grade crossings, financial burdens from delays in service and damage to the train or track are also of concern. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is involved with numerous wide-ranging engineering, education, and enforcement efforts to increase highway-rail grade crossing safety by reducing the number, frequency, and severity of incidents that occur each year. The study described in this document is a safety improvement effort being conducted by the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT).

This study evaluated the effectiveness of pavement markings placed within the dynamic envelope, the region between and immediately adjacent to the tracks at a grade crossing, and new corresponding signage at the Commercial Boulevard grade crossing (ID# 628186E) in Ft. Lauderdale, FL. The goal of the added markings and signage is to positively influence driver behaviour and reduce the number of vehicles that come to a stop within the dynamic envelope, thus reducing the possibility that a vehicle is present on the tracks when a train approaches, which would not only be dangerous to the vehicle occupants but also to standers-by, train crews, and train passengers.

Researchers coded driver stopping behaviour at this crossing for two 14-day periods. Vehicles were coded as having stopped in one of four zones: behind the stop line and gate arm (Zone 1), past the stop line but before the tracks (Zone 2), on the tracks (Zone 3), or immediately after the tracks (Zone 4). Stopping in Zone 3 is considered to be the most dangerous driver behaviour, while stopping in Zone 1 is the safest.

Results indicate that the addition of the dynamic envelope pavement markings and modified signage reduced the proportion of vehicles that stopped in Zone 3. They also increased the proportion of vehicles that stopped in Zone 1. Additionally, fewer vehicles were found to stop in both Zone 2 and Zone 4, which are both moderately dangerous.

Despite the positive results with safe stopping behaviour, there were less conclusive results when looking at motorists’ actions. Pavement markings and signage did not cause motorists to act differently once they had come to a stop in one of the dangerous zones, Zones 2–4 (i.e., drivers were not more likely to try to switch lanes or reverse to exit the crossing once stopped).

Though these results seem to indicate that dynamic envelope pavement markings and signage may be an effective way to increase safe stopping behaviour, they have only been studied at one crossing. Additional field testing and analysis is necessary before more recommendations for wider use can be made.


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