A few years ago, driving along a narrow back road through farmland in East
Yorkshire, I came upon a gated crossing with a notice instructing drivers
to blow their horn for the crossing keeper. Before I could do so, a man
appeared from a shed behind the adjacent cottage, donning his reflective
jacket, and manually opened the gates for us. I presume he had a means of
knowing when the next train was due. I hope so, because it was the
In North America, most unguarded crossings simply have the warning "STOP -
LOOK - LISTEN" (if any). School bus drivers are required by law to do so
even at crossings with automatic gates, warning lights and bells. Most
buses and coaches have a sign on the back: "This vehicle stops at all
railway crossings". They even have to stop at disused crossings if they
haven't been officially decomissioned.
What? Not in North America they don't.
First, there's almost no such thing anymore as a "signalbox/tower" as almost
all the routes that have any form of signals are controlled from a central
"dispatch office" and secondly, the placing of grade crossings and signals
(If they exist) are in now way related to each other and are in no way
interlocked with each other. Besides, back when they had "towers" they were
only located at "interlockings" and so could be dozens of 20, 30, 40 or more
miles apart. We never (Very rarely) had "towers" spaced every few miles as
signalboxes were in the UK.
At "controlled" grade crossings, the only things that might be interlocked
with each other are road traffic lights and the grade crossing signals as
it' every common to find grade crossings running diagonally through cross
roads controlled by traffic lights, or have two street each running parallel
to each other, about 100 feet apart, with the single track line running
between them and grade crossings every block of so that may, or may not, be
controlled by traffic lights, grade crossing flashers, grade crossing gates
or nothing at all other than cross bucks and a "Stop, Look, Listen" sign.
North America is more "relaxed" on grade crossing and rail safety than in
the UK, for example.
The other thing they have to do at every level crossing in the States is to
sound the whistle. They have to blow two long blasts, a short and another
long which is the letter Q in mores. They adopted this from the British
Navy. If a ship had Queen Victoria on board they would sound a Q to tell
other ships that they had the Queen on board and had right of way.
In North America (Why with the UK is it always the USA?) _all_ locomotive
use of the whistle/horns is governed by rule 14 which at one time, before
radios, had a long list of whistle signals that were used to communicate
between the train's crew, other locomotive/train crews and as warning
The fact that rule 14L, long-long-short-long is the Morse letter "Q" is just
a coincidence and has nothing to do with the RN. If fact, as we all know,
the US goes out of it's way to make sure it doesn't do anything the same as
is done in the UK.
There are a number of cities in the US that have a no horn law in urban
areas with automatic barriers and very high train frequency. There are
still crossings with whistle boards mostly ungated automatic crossings
and footpath crossings.
BTW the British navy has always been known as the Royal Navy (RN) :;
Again, in North America (Why always the USA?) this is not uncommon.
Municipal bylaws can ban the use of the whistle within city limits or at
certain grade crossing but only if said crossing(s) are protected by a
crossing equipped with the full compliment of lights, bells and half
barriers or, perhaps it's full barriers, I'm not 100% sure on that point.
Half barriers. Now you are 100%.
It can take several years to get approval through various government
boards and committees, plus CN and/or CP, including details of funding for
I should have read the full thread first...
In Canada, at least, a municipality can decide, subject to approval by
the Canadian Transport Commission, to ban train whistles at crossings,
except in case of emergency or workers on the line. This often involves
upgrading the crossings to a minimum standard, including bells and
lifting barriers and zig-zag barriers for pedestrians.
Toronto has banned level crossing whistles for years, not that there are
many left on main roads. My home town, traversed by one CP and two CN
lines in close proximity and having 4 level crossings with 90 trains per
day, banned whistles about 5 years ago, resulting in a rise in real
In the UK most lines are controlled by power signal boxes fully gated
crossings are interlocked with signals and half barrier crossings at
stations. Something similar applies on US lines that carry substantial
passenger traffic such as in the North East. Crossing protection on
freight only lines is much more relaxed as you say.
Except in North America, grade crossings are, in 99.99% of the time, not
interlocked with the railway signals and signals are placed with no regard
for the position of grade crossings. If the grade crossing malfunctions,
the only warning the loco crew have of malfunction grade crossing is a
visual one. If the grade crossing red lights are not flashing then they
will (Or may not) see the small tell-tale white lights on the sides of the
flashers are not flashing or will (Or may not) see that the barriers, if
any, are not down.
Many, many times, you will get railway signals placed such that the train
will stop and block the grade crossing because the train crosses the grade
crossing and then comes up to the signal.
Direction of travel ---->
Back closer to topic, was sure read something about fixed stop signals
recently so reluctantly retarced recent researches (reluctant cos spend
hours reading interesting bits). Little nugget on fixed distance is Bound of
LMS decreed as far as the driver is concerned there should be nodifference
in physical appearence between a fixed or working distant. Dont know if
they went as far as dummy rods though.
I know of some road traffic lights that never change colour, although the
head has the usual 3 aspects. E.g., there is a changeable signal to
regulate left turns, but the straight through signal always shows green.
Thats blown that attempt to get it back OT :-) but heres another. How many
people knew LMS ground signals were used to control movements against the
normal flow of traffic - admit I didnt !
Surely that's what ground signals (dummies) are for? Except for the GWR
for a while (and doubtless some other companies), under absolute block
signalling a wrong-road movement cannot be signalled using a 'normal'
signal (obvioulsy single-lines have their own arrangements), so dummies
are used. I believe using dummies for right-road movements is relatively
recent - prior to that calling-on arms and a plethora of other such
signals were used for right-road movements where the line to the next
signal might not be clear (permissive loops excepted).
Polytechforum.com is a website by engineers for engineers. It is not affiliated with any of manufacturers or vendors discussed here.
All logos and trade names are the property of their respective owners.