Rail-Highway Terms

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AAR/ DOT Crossing Number

A uniform national numbering system in which a unique number is assigned to every highway-rail grade crossing in the nation. This number, also known as the inventory number should be present at every crossing. It is the "address" of each crossing, and it is essential to state crossing safety programs.

Active Highway-Rail Crossing Devices

Traffic control devices that give positive notices to highway users of the approach or presence of the train. Active devices include flashing light signals, automatic gates, and other similar devices activated by a train passing over a detection circuit or, in some instances, by manually operated devices.

Advance Warnings

An advance warning tells you to look, listen, and live. You may have to stop your vehicle. Watch the vehicles at railroad crossings, so be prepared when you are following buses, or some trucks that are required to stop at railroad crossings.

Advance Warning Sign

Advance warning sign is a round yellow sign with R X R. It is located alongside the highway in advance of the crossing and is designed to notify a motorist of a highway-rail-crossing head.

At-Grade Crossing

An at-grade crossing is where the intersecting rail and highway traffic are at the same level.



A bell is a device which, when activated, provides an audible warning, usually used with a flashing red light signal.



A structure equipped with flashing red light signals and extending over one or more lanes of traffic.


An occupant or pedestrian involved who was possibly injured, or died as recorded by the reporting officer on the Motor Vehicle Accident Report.


An event occurring on a traffic way involving highway and/or railroad equipment that produces damage along with injury.

Constant Warning Time

A motion sensing warning device system with the capabilities of measuring train speed and providing a relatively uniform warning time to public traffic at highway-rail intersections.


A designated strip of land between two locations within which traffic, topography, environment and other characteristics are evaluated for transportation purposes.


Crossbucks are white reflectorized X-shaped signs with "RAILROAD CROSSING" in black lettering, located alongside the roadway at railroad tracks. Crossbucks are to be viewed as a yield sign, and is a regulatory sign.

Crossing Responsibility

The determination of need and the selection of devices and signs at a grade crossing is made by the public agency with jurisdictional authority. Before a new or modified highway-rail grade crossing traffic control system is installed, approval is required from the appropriate agency within the state of Kansas.

Crossing Sight Distance

The distance along a railroad track from which a train might be seen by a highway user approaching on an intersecting highway.


Exempt Sign

An exempt sign, authorized by Kansas state law or regulation and placed at specific crossings, to inform certain highway users that a stop is not required, unless the driver's view of the sign is blocked, or a signal, a train crew member, or uniformed police officer indicates a train, locomotive, or other railroad equipment is approaching or occupying the crossing. This is a non-regulatory sign.


Fail-Safe Principle

The principle of electrical circuit design where a normally energized circuit, when interrupted or de-energized, causes the warning system to be activated. Highway-rail intersection warning systems apply this principle to activate the warning system when a train is approaching the intersection, or when there are component failures or abnormal conditions in the system.

Flashing Red Light Signals

A single flashing light signal is used with crossbucks signs at many railroad crossings. Always stop when the lights begin to flash because a train is coming. Do not proceed until you can do so safely. If there is more than one track, make sure all tracks are clear before crossing.



Automatic gates are a mechanism to provide an arm which lowers across the lanes of the roadway. The gates are used with flashing red lights signals at certain crossings. Stop when the lights begin to flash before the gates lower across your side of the road. Remain stopped until the gates are raised and the lights stop flashing. If the gates are down, stay in place and don’t drive around lowered gates to cross the tracks until the gates have raised. It is against the law to go around crossing gates and it could be deadly.

Grade Separation

The crossing of a roadway and a railroad at different elevations, such as a bridge structure carrying the roadway over the railroad or vice versa.


Highway (Road, Street)

A general term indicating a traffic way, including the entire area within the right-of-way, used for vehicular and/or pedestrian travels.

Highway-Rail Crossings Warning Systems

Traffic control devices placed on or adjacent to a highway, or in advance of a crossing, including pavement markings and circuitry.

Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

A highway-rail grade crossing is the general area where a roadway crosses a railway, an at-grade crossing of the roadway and the railway. Be prepared to stop and make sure all railroad tracks are clear before crossing.

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Surface

The roadway material placed between and alongside the railroad tracks to allow the vehicles to safely cross. Crossing surface materials may be asphalt, concrete, rock, or timber, or a combination of these materials.

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Warning Systems

Equipment engineered to detect the approach of a train and to initiate the visual and audible devices to warn the highway user of the approaching train. The equipment also activates the visual and audible devices when it detects a system malfunction. The system includes such active devices and train detection systems as determined necessary by the public agency having jurisdiction.



A lane is that part of a roadway designed for the use by a single line of vehicles.


Motion Sensor

An electronic warning device which senses the movement of a train within the approaches to a railroad crossing. It also detects when a train ceases to move toward the crossing and will after a specific period of time, deactivate the crossing signals, allowing vehicular traffic to use the crossing.


National Highway System (NHS)

A part of the National Intermodal Transportation System. The NHS provides an interconnected system of principal arterial routes which serve major population centers, international border crossings, ports, airports, public transportation facilities, and other intermodal transportation facilitates and other major travel destinations. This system supports national defense requirements, and serves interstate and interregnal travel.


Parallel Track Sign

A yellow, diamond-shaped sign with black illustrations indicating tracks parallel to the roadway. The purpose of these signs is to warn motorists making a turn that there is a highway-rail grade crossing immediately after the turn.

Passive Warning Devices

Non-electric traffic control devices, including signs, markings and other devices located at or in advance of a crossing to indicate the presence of a crossing. The purpose is to alert highway users to prepare for and take appropriate evasive action if needed. Passive warning devices include the following: Advance Warning Signs, Crossbucks, and Pavement Markings.

Pavement Markings

Pavement markings are in advance of the crossing and consist of the white letters R X R that may be painted or attached on the roadway at the approach to some crossings to warn traffic.

Private Grade Crossing

Private grade crossing is an at-grade crossing where the highway is privately owned and is intended for use by the owner or by the owner’s licensees and invitees. It is not intended for public use and is not maintained by a public or state highway authority.

Public Grade Crossing

The public grade crossing is a highway-rail grade crossing where the roadway is under the jurisdiction of and maintained by a public authority.



That portion of a highway, designed principally for vehicular use, including travel lanes, parking lanes and shoulders.

Railroad Crossbuck Signs

Railroad crossbuck signs will be found at most crossings. The words "RAILROAD CROSSING" in black lettering placed on a white reflectorized X-shaped sign located before the crossing. If there is more than one track, a sign below crossbucks indicates the number of railroad tracks.


Stop Sign

A standard roadway stop sign, shape is octagon with a red background and white lettering. Come to a full stop and proceed with caution. This a regulatory sign.


Tracks Out of Service Sign

A sign for use at a crossing in lieu of the Crossbuck when a railroad track has been abandoned or the use has been discontinued.

Traffic Circuit

An electrical circuit warning device, of which the rails of the track form a part, used to detect trains and activate warning devices.

Traffic Control Devices

Traffic control devices are all signs, signals, markings and devices placed on, over, or adjacent to a road, street, highway, or interstate by authority of a public body or official having jurisdiction to regulate, warn or guide the traffic.


Any person whose presence on railroad property is prohibited by law and is also against railroad regulations.



A means of carrying or transporting person(s) and/or something as an automobile from one location to another destination.


Yield Sign

The yield sign will be a downward pointing triangle having a red lettering and outside border. Drivers shall slow down or stop if needed only when necessary to avoid interference with other traffic that has the right of way. The standard roadway yield sign is a regulatory sign.

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Source: Encarta 2000 Encyclopedia, The World Book Encyclopedia, UPRR-Railroad Terms, and Webster's New World Dictionary