Trails Crossing on Active Railroad Lines

One of the most difficult trail facilities to accomplish is a crossing of an active rail line.

by Stuart Macdonald, Trail Consultant, American Trails


There are many examples of trails crossing railroads at grade in both urban and rural situations. The physical ingredients are signs warning trail users, safety messages, and a surface to allow bike and pedestrian movement while accommodating the rails and flangeways. There are several types of crossing surfaces; see http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/xings/xing_surfaces.cfm.

Warning signals and even crossing gates to stop trail users when trains are approaching are also in use. Crossing at right angles to the tracks avoids the hazard of bike tires getting caught in the flangeway grooves. The one real danger is where there are two busy tracks to cross. As soon as a train on their side passes, trail users are ready to cross and may not look to see that another train may be approaching on the far track, obscured from view by the first train.

About the Author

Stuart Macdonald spent 19 years as Colorado's State Trails Coordinator. He is the editor of American Trails Magazine. During 1998-99, he represented State Trail Administrators on the national committee that proposed regulations for accessible trails. He chaired the National Recreational Trails Committee, which advised the Federal Highway Administration in the first years of the Recreational Trails Program. Stuart grew up in San Diego and his main outdoor interest besides trails is surfing. He has a BA in English from San Francisco State and a Masters in Landscape Architecture from Utah State.

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