Railroad Crossing
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A railroad crossing includes a turn in a road as the road approaches the railroad, the turn forcing an approaching vehicle to slow down. A impact attenuation zone extends from the turn in the direction of traffic flow so that vehicles failing to make the turn enter a vehicle impact attenuation zone are brought to a stop before coming into the area of danger through which railroad trains traverse.

Ghigliotti, Jerome J. (Novato, CA, US)
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What is claimed is:

1. A railroad crossing comprising: a road that extends across a railway, the road including a first road portion extending in a first direction; a change in road direction at one end of the first road portion; and a vehicle impact attenuation zone extending along the first direction from the first portion of the road, the vehicle impact attenuation zone containing one or more railroad ties or portions of railroad ties, arranged at a similar level to the first road portion, the vehicle impact attenuation zone located between the road and the railway or crossing.

2. The railroad crossing of claim 1 further comprising a crossing gate having an open position and a closed position, the crossing gate blocking the road adjacent to the railway when in the closed position.

3. The railroad crossing of claim 1 further comprising surface features on the road that indicate proximity to a railroad crossing.

4. The railroad crossing of claim 1 wherein the railway extends in a second direction that is perpendicular to the first direction.

5. The railroad crossing of claim 1 wherein the railway extends in a second direction, the first and second direction forming an oblique angle.

6. The railroad crossing of claim 1 wherein the change in road direction is a ninety-degree change.

7. The railroad crossing of claim 1 wherein the change in road direction occurs approximately fifty feet from the railway.

8. The railroad crossing of claim 1 further comprising a second portion of the road that extends from the change in direction, at ninety degrees to the first portion, and a third portion of the road that extends from the second portion along the first direction.

9. A method of modifying a railroad crossing between a road that extends in a first direction and a railway that extends in a second direction comprising: replacing a portion of the road with a vehicle impact attenuation zone, the vehicle impact attenuation zone extending along the first direction, the vehicle impact attenuation zone including one or more railroad ties or portions of railroad ties; and adding a diverted road portion that extends around the vehicle impact attenuation zone, the diverted road portion extending across the railway, the diverted road meeting the road at an angle of greater than thirty degrees.

10. The method of claim 9 wherein the diverted road portion connects portions of the road that are separated by the impact attenuation zone.

11. The method of claim 9 wherein the vehicle impact attenuation zone is on one side of the railroad crossing or track, further comprising forming an additional impact attenuation zone on the opposite side of the railroad crossing or track.

12. The method of claim 9 further comprising forming a plurality of indicators along portions of the road close to the railroad crossing or track.

13. The method of claim 9 wherein the plurality of indicators are raised devices on the surface of the road.

14. The method of claim 9 further comprising forming a gate that blocks traffic on the road from traversing the railway when the gate is closed.

15. A vehicle impact attenuation zone at a road approach to a railroad crossing comprising: a plurality of unsecured railroad ties or portions thereof arranged in an area that extends from the road, along a direction of vehicle travel of the road, the area extending from a location where the direction of vehicle travel changes, such that a vehicle failing to change its direction of travel at the location enters the area and continues over the plurality of unsecured railroad ties or portions thereof.

16. The vehicle deceleration zone of claim 15 wherein the vehicle impact attenuation zone extends from the road towards a railway, the road traversing the railway near the vehicle impact attenuation zone.

17. The vehicle impact attenuation zone of claim 15 further comprising a barrier between the area and the railway.

18. The vehicle impact attenuation zone of claim 15 wherein the direction of vehicle travel changes by ninety degrees.



This invention relates to railroad crossings and in particular to features used to ensure safety at railroad crossings.

Railroad crossings are common throughout the world. Various systems are in use to ensure the safety of vehicle traffic traveling across railroad crossings. Many such systems rely on a mechanical barrier such as a gate across the road to block access by vehicular traffic when a train is approaching the crossing. Other systems rely on warning lights or other signals to inform drivers that a train is approaching. Some crossings have both barriers and warning signals. Such systems present little or no physical attenuation devices to alert vehicular traffic to the impending danger at the crossing. Nor do many present systems provide a passive barrier for the prevention of crossing access by impaired drivers or to drivers traveling at unsafe speeds. Present approaches generally require electrical power and are therefore prone to failure. They may also be costly to install and require significant maintenance. Therefore, there is a need for an improved railroad crossing.


Approach to an exemplary railroad crossing and progress through it is recognizable by raised, road lane separation discs or otherwise shaped devices, larger (possibly approximately one foot in diameter), in order to distinguish their feel to a motorist driving across them from that of the smaller (approximately four (4) inch diameter) raised road discs and rectangles in use on highways at non-crossing locations. These larger discs or otherwise shaped devices have a gentle, edge slope so as not to create a hazard to traverse. This railroad crossing includes a right angle (ninety (90) degrees) or approximate turn in a road as it approaches the railroad crossing. Extending beyond the end of pavement, at this point, is a ditch or depression, filled to above grade with used wooden railroad ties, which act as an impact attenuation device (vehicle impact attenuation zone) for impaired drivers and vehicles which either did not recognize the crossing approach or were traveling at an unsafe speed approaching the crossing. Beyond the wooden ties, and parallel to the crossing gate (if there is one, or ten (10) feet prior to the tracks otherwise), are cut rails, approximately eight feet long, with four (4) feet embedded into the ground, and approximately four (4) feet above; and spaced approximately two (2) feet apart. Subsequent to the first turn is another right angle (ninety (90) degrees) or approximate turn bringing the approaching vehicle and roadway parallel to the original direction of travel and perpendicular to (or approximately) the railroad tracks. Any vehicle failing to make the first turn enters the vehicle impact attenuation zone and is brought to a stop. The turns are designed so that a vehicle must be going at a safe speed to negotiate the turns (e.g. slow to less than twenty-five (25) miles per hour). The turns prevent a vehicle from crossing the railroad at high speed or without noticing that railroad track is being crossed.

An impact attenuation zone may be formed using railroad ties that are randomly arranged to slow or stop the vehicle. A used and cut rail barrier acts as a final impediment to unsafe crossing of the track. Using expended railroad ties and rails in this way provides a second use for a product that is otherwise creates difficulties in ecological disposal.

Raised discs or other indicators may be placed as lane dividers as the road approaches the railroad crossing, so that drivers are made aware that they are approaching the railroad crossing danger. In one example, the raised discs are a foot in diameter and 2.4 inches high so that they are clearly visible to a driver and cause a vehicle traverse sensation distinct from other road markings.

The turns may be designed so that even a large vehicle such as a school bus can maneuver through the turns without blocking the road. At least a fifty foot zone is provided between the first and second turns and between the second turn and the railroad in certain examples. This would also accommodate a semi-tractor and trailer up to fifty (50) feet combined. A longer approach would need to be constructed for roads that usually accommodate forty five (45) and fifty three (53) foot trailers. Significant modifications would be required for tandem, double bottom, piggy back or triple trailers; probably long, multiple curves.

Crossings which already incorporate barriers such as a gate, warning signs, audible warnings, et cetera, need only be modified to move their locations the approximately fifty (50) feet down the right of way for re-installation.


FIG. 1 shows an example of a railroad crossing that includes a set of two right angle (ninety (90) degree) turns in a road approaching a railroad crossing and an impact attenuation zone as a continuation of the prior existing roadway prior to the inclusion of the first turn. FIG. 1 also shows lane separation recognition raised discs on the road approaching the railroad crossing and previously described railroad tie and cut track barriers. “CG” identifies location of (moved) Crossing Gates.

FIG. 2 shows a detailed view of an individual raised disc that is located on a road surface approaching and progressing through the railroad crossing. Heights, diameters, and edge angles can be varied in order to insure safe traverse.

FIG. 3 shows an example of a railroad crossing where there are both parallel and perpendicular or approximate roads intersecting near the railroad crossing and traffic approaching the railroad on either road goes through a turn that has deceleration and impact attenuation zones.

FIG. 4 shows an example of a railroad crossing where a road crosses a railroad track at an oblique angle, turns are provided in the road on either side of the railroad and impact attenuation zones extend from the turns.

FIG. 5 shows an example of a railroad crossing where two roads intersect close to the railroad crossing, one road having turns and impact attenuation zones for vehicles approaching the railroad crossing, the other road having no turns or impact attenuation zones.


FIG. 1 shows a railroad crossing 100 according to a first embodiment of the present invention. A road 102 extends in the vertical direction and crosses a railway 104 that extends in the horizontal direction. Two railroad tracks 106, 108 are shown comprising railway 104. In some cases there may be only one railroad track or there may be three or more railroad tracks comprising a railway at a railroad crossing. As a vehicle traveling along road 102 approaches railroad crossing 100 from either direction, it encounters a turn in the road. For example, a vehicle approaching along a first portion 110 of road 102 at the top of FIG. 1 encounters a change in road direction of ninety degrees at a first turn 112. This change in direction requires the vehicle to decelerate. Subsequently, a second turn 114 providing a second change in road direction is encountered. FIG. 1 shows second turn 114 providing a second ninety-degree change in direction. The second change in direction of second turn 114 returns the vehicle to the original direction of travel. After the second turn 114, the vehicle approaches the railroad crossing. The vehicle will, of necessity, be moving at low speed at this point, so that any warnings or barriers are unlikely to be ignored. A Crossing Gate (CG) is provided to impede the vehicle from driving onto railway 104 unadvisedly. In some cases, warning lights or signs may also be provided. In other cases, no other barriers or warnings may be needed.

First turn 112 of FIG. 1 prevents a vehicle from approaching the railway 104 at high speed and may thus ensure that a driver has enough time to observe and react to any warning or barrier. At unguarded crossings, reduced speed is intended to give a driver sufficient time to observe an approaching train. First turn 112 generally ensures that an inattentive driver does not enter railroad crossing 100 without noticing the crossing, since some attention is required negotiating first turn 112. However, given the nature of many drivers, it is to be expected that some drivers will not observe first turn 112 until it is too late to reduce speed and successfully negotiate the turn. An impact attenuation zone 116 is provided to prevent such drivers from driving onto the railway 104.

An impact attenuation zone is an area where a vehicle undergoes forced deceleration. Deceleration may be caused by the nature of the surface in the impact attenuation zone. Examples of impact attenuation zones are gravel and inclined runaway truck ramps (escape ramps). Impact attenuation zones may have a gravel or sand surface so that when a vehicle drives onto such a surface, it encounters a resistance to forward travel that causes the vehicle to lose speed rapidly. An impact attenuation zone may have a barrier to prevent any vehicle from continuing through an impact attenuation zone and onto a railway. Examples shown herein contain wooden railroad ties and cut rails; other deceleration and/or attenuation media and/or devices may be utilized.

According to one embodiment of the present invention, an impact attenuation zone such as impact attenuation zone 116 includes railroad ties (sleepers) that are arranged to reduce the speed of a vehicle entering impact attenuation zone 116. The railroad ties may be placed to form a regular or irregular pattern as a deceleration device. For example, ties arranged perpendicularly to the direction of vehicle travel may provide a series of bumps. Alternatively, ties may be arranged in a random manner, in order to markedly reduce the speed of the vehicle. In some cases, ties may be cut into pieces to be used in a deceleration zone. The ties are generally not attached to rails or to each other when they are in a deceleration zone. The size of pieces used may be from full ties to wood chips, or even sawdust. A variety of different sized pieces of railroad ties may be used together in an impact attenuation zone. Ties used for impact attenuation zones are generally old and are available because they have been replaced by new ties. Thus, such ties may be in various states of decay. Generally, the condition of such ties is not critical. Even partially rotten, broken, splintered, cracked or otherwise imperfect ties may be used. An advantage of using ties in this application is that railroads generally have large numbers of old ties available. Such ties may already be located at or near railroad crossings. Disposal of ties may be costly because of transport costs and environmental concerns. In particular, ties are generally treated with chemicals that may cause environmental damage if ties are incorrectly handled. However, by continuing to use them on (or adjacent to) railroad property, environmental concerns may be lessened. Thus, such use is both economically efficient and environmentally friendly. An impact attenuation zone may contain other material in addition to or instead of railroad ties.

Impact attenuation zone 116 of FIG. 1 includes a barrier 118 that is placed so that a vehicle cannot enter onto railway 104, even if its inertia has carried it through impact attenuation zone 116. If a vehicle is traveling at such speed that it would otherwise continue through impact attenuation zone 116 and onto railway 104, barrier 118 acts as a last measure to stop the vehicle. Also, if some debris is thrown forward when the vehicle undergoes deceleration, such material may be stopped by barrier 118 from creating a hazard upon railway 104. A barrier may be a fence, wall or similar structure. In this example, barrier 118 is formed of cut railroad rails that are arranged in a vertical orientation with lower portions imbedded in the ground.

FIG. 1 also shows a series of raised devices (in this case discs) 120 on road 102 as road 102 approaches railway 104. Such discs or otherwise raised surfaces are intended to provide notice to drivers that they are approaching a railroad crossing. Discs or otherwise shaped devices may be placed on the road surface along the centerline of the road, and to divide lanes for multiple lane roads. FIG. 2 shows a cross section of one raised disc 120a of raised disks 120. Disc 120a is one foot (1′) in diameter and has a total height of two point four inches (2.4″). Disc 120a has a truncated conical shape with a diameter on the top of four inches (4″). This provides an angle of thirty degrees (30°) between the road surface and the side of disk 120a. This is intended to allow a truck or a car to drive over disc 120a without damage, while noticing the change in roadway surface without creating a hazard, which might cause in inadvertent change in direction of the vehicle. A disc or device may be colored brightly so that it is highly visible. A reflective coating or one or more reflectors may be provided to make a disc or device more visible at night. Raised discs provide one example of indicators that may be placed on a road surface to indicate to drivers that they are approaching a railroad crossing. Other indicators may also be used. Other road surface indicators may include lines or “speed bumps” on the road.

FIG. 1 shows road 102 being symmetric, with a second impact attenuation zone 122 provided for traffic coming from the direction of the bottom of FIG. 1. Thus, a vehicle coming from either direction goes through two turns, subsequent to the first of which is an impact attenuation zone. In other examples, asymmetric railroad crossings are provided. FIG. 1 also shows both lanes of road 102 going through the same turns. However, in some case, lanes may separate as a road approaches a railroad crossing so that different lanes are differently treated. In particular, a lane that takes traffic towards a railroad crossing may go through turns, where an opposing lane that takes traffic away from the railroad crossing may not go through such turns so that traffic leaving the railroad crossing is not slowed down.

FIG. 1 shows certain exemplary dimensions associated with a railroad crossing. However, other dimensions may also be chosen depending on factors such as the width of the road, the traffic expected and any structures or other limiting features near the railroad crossing. FIG. 1 shows raised devices 120 placed on the road for fifty feet (50′) ahead of first turn 112. This provides sufficient distance and time for a driver to notice first turn 112 and slow down. In some cases, more than fifty feet of devices may be provided. The distance between first turn 112 and second turn 114 is also fifty feet. The distance from second turn 114 to the Crossing Gate (CG) is also fifty feet. Fifty feet is chosen in this case because most vehicles (e.g. school buses) are less than fifty feet long, so using fifty-foot long segments allows most traffic to pass through without blocking the road.

A railroad crossing such as railroad crossing 100 of FIG. 1 may be built from scratch where a new road is being built across a railroad. Alternatively, such a railroad crossing may be built to improve an existing railroad crossing. For example, where a road extends across a railroad without any turns, portions of the road on either side of the railroad may be replaced by vehicle deceleration zones. A bypass road portion may be built to go around the deceleration zones and to link the portions of road separated by the deceleration zones. Thus, the dashed lines in FIG. 1 may represent the original position of the road crossing the railroad. The portion of road between the first turn on either side of the railroad may be considered a bypass road.

FIG. 3 shows an alternative railroad crossing 300 where a road intersection 330 is located near a railroad track 332. In particular, a first road 334 traverses railroad track 332. A second road 336 that runs parallel to railroad track 332 intersects first road 334 at intersection 330 near railroad track 332. First road 334 has a configuration similar to that shown in FIG. 2, with two ninety-degree turns on either side of railroad track 332 and impact attenuation zones 338, 340 extending from first turns 342, 344. Second road 336 has a ninety-degree turn 346 as it approaches first road 334. Impact attenuation zone 348 extends from turn 346 so that any vehicle failing to make turn 346 enters impact attenuation zone 348 and is brought to a stop. In this case, rather than stopping such a vehicle from entering onto a railroad track, impact attenuation zone 348 prevents the vehicle from crossing first road 334. Second road 336 also has a second turn 350 before it joins first road 334. Thus, a driver traveling on second road 336 is forced to slow down before reaching first road 334 at intersection 330. Because of the close proximity of road intersection 330 to railroad track 332, such a driver would be put on specific notice of an imminent danger and generally be going at low speed when approaching railroad track 332. As in FIG. 1, raised devices 352 on roads 334, 336 and Crossing Gates (CG) are provided for additional warning and safety. This configuration may also be the result of a modification to an existing railroad crossing or may be built from scratch. Exemplary dimensions are indicated as before.

FIG. 4 shows an alternative railroad crossing 400 where a road 452 traverses a railway 454 at an oblique angle (in this case, approximately forty five degrees). As before, as road 452 approaches railway 454, a first turn 456 is encountered that has an impact attenuation zone 458 extending from it so that a vehicle failing to make turn 456 enters impact attenuation zone 458 and is impeded or prevented from entering upon railway 454 in an unsafe manner. First turn 456 in this case is forty-five degrees. A similar arrangement is provided on the other side of railway 454 with impact attenuation zone 460 extending from turn 462. Traffic coming from either side is forced to turn left so that failing to make either turn 456 or 462 does not take a vehicle across an opposing lane, but instead takes it directly into one of impact attenuation zones 458, 460. This arrangement may also be adapted for roads that traverse a railroad track at other angles including those that cross at ninety degrees. Raised devices 464a, 464b, Crossing Gates (CG) and barriers 466a, 466b are provided as before. Exemplary dimensions are indicated as before.

FIG. 5 shows an alternative railroad crossing 500 where a road intersection 570 is located close to a railroad track 572. A first road 574 extends parallel to railroad track 572 and intersects a second road 576 that extends across railroad track 572 at ninety (90) degrees to railroad track 572. In this case, impact attenuation zones 578a, 578b are provided for traffic coming from either direction on first road 574. First turns 580a, 580b and second turns 582a, 582b are provided on either side of intersection 570 with impact attenuation zones 578a, 578b extending from first turns 580a, 580b for any vehicle failing to make first turns 580a, 580b. Second road 576 does not have turns or impact attenuation zones. Impact attenuation zones may be provided as needed and as practicable. For example, absence of an impact attenuation zone may be practicable because of adjacent buildings or other features. Raised devices 584 and a Crossing Gate (CG) are provided as before on second road 576. Exemplary dimensions are indicated.

Although the various aspects of the present invention have been described with respect to certain preferred embodiments, it is understood that the invention is entitled to protection within the full scope of the appended claims.