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Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook - Revised Second Edition August 2007
Section 7: Maintenance Program Table of Contents | Previous | Next


Maintenance Program*

A. Railroad Responsibility*

The highway-rail crossing is unique to other highway features in that railroads install, operate, and maintain the traffic control devices located at the crossing. Even though a large portion of the cost of designing and constructing crossings, including traffic control devices, is assumed by the public, current procedures place maintenance responsibilities for devices located in the railroad right of way with the railroad. The public agency having jurisdiction terminates its responsibility for the roadway at the crossing surface.

B. Highway Authority Responsibility

Traffic control devices on the approach, in most instances, are the responsibility of the public agency. Maintenance-sharing with highway or other local authorities is typically included in construction and management (C&M) agreements developed prior to initiation of final design and construction of improvements.

The highway agency is usually responsible for maintaining the highway approaches, all traffic control devices on the approaches (except the crossbuck sign), illumination, and special signing at the crossing, such as the “Exempt” sign, STOP sign, or “Do Not Stop on Tracks” sign.

1. Traffic Control Devices

Traffic control devices on approaches to highway-rail crossings require regular inspection and maintenance. Pavement markings, if present, may need to be renewed annually. Signs on the approaches will gradually lose their retroreflectivity and should be inspected at night or checked with a retroreflectometer on some regular basis, such as annually, to assure that they retain the proper brightness.

Interconnected traffic signals and active advance warning signs should be jointly inspected on a regular basis by state and railroad signal personnel. County or municipal representatives need to be included in this inspection if they share the responsibility for operation or maintenance of the device. Operation of the preempt should be checked any time a railroad or roadway signal maintainer visits the crossing or the highway intersection. The highway agency and the local law enforcement agency should have a railroad company’s telephone number available 24 hours per day to report railroad signal damage or malfunctions.

Passive flashers and roadway luminaires should be observed on a regular basis and re-lamped as necessary. Road crews should be alert for missing or damaged devices and for results of acts of vandalism that deface the devices or interfere with their effectiveness. Road crews should also drive the approach roadway to assure that vegetation does not obscure the traffic control devices from approaching drivers and should trim or cut trees or brush as necessary.

Higher-quality materials, such as improved sign sheeting and preformed or thermoplastic pavement marking materials, can offer dual benefits by increasing the effectiveness of the devices while reducing the required number of maintenance cycles.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been developing standards on retroreflectivity of signs, which include minimum values to be provided and maintained. FHWA recently published a Supplemental Notice of Proposed Amendments to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices. The provisions were out for comment at the time this handbook wasprepared.131

2. Roadside Clear Zone

The roadside clear zone serves the dual purpose of increasing the visibility of the crossing and traffic control devices and providing a safe recovery area for an errant motorist. The clear zone should be kept free of brush; trees that are more than 100 millimeters (4 inches) in diameter or that may obscure traffic control devices; and rocks, eroded areas, standing water, or other defects that may entrap an errant vehicle or lead to deterioration of the roadway or track structure.

The maintenance of the sight triangle, beyond highway and railroad right of way, presents a unique problem. Except for the portions on the rights of way, this involves private property. The removal of trees, brush, crops, buildings, signs, storage facilities, and other obstructions to the driver’s view requires access to the property and an agreement with the landholder for the removal of the obstruction.

3. Roadside Approaches

Most maintenance on roadway approaches will be similar to that carried out on any roadway. There are a few special considerations maintenance forces need to keep in mind:

•    Roadway maintenance equipment can damage crossing surfaces or the adjacent track. Repairs adjacent to the crossing should be done with care.

•    Maintenance personnel should be aware of the potential for train movements and should be alert for trains. It may be necessary to station an employee at the crossing to warn the crew of train movements or to coordinate activities with the railroad.

•    Particular care needs to be taken not to block or interfere with proper drainage from the crossing or track structure when maintaining pipes and ditches.

•    Snow removal and ice control should be done with care. Snow must not be “windrowed” across the tracks. Snowplows can damage crossing surfaces. Chemicals can corrode track and fittings and can short-out track circuits. Snow and slush should not be pushed or carried onto the crossing. It may be necessary for personnel with hand tools to remove ice or packed snow from the crossing flangeways. • Where possible, resurfacing operations should be coordinated with the railroad. Resurfacing lifts should be “heeled in” near the crossing so as not to leave the crossing surface in a hole or dip. Drainage should be checked to assure that the additional roadway height has not directed water onto the crossing surface. All necessary steps should be taken to prevent interference between resurfacing equipment and personnel and trains.

4. Reassessment and Periodic Review

The highway-rail grade crossing represents a discontinuity in both the highway pavement and the railroad tracks structure. Highway maintenance personnel need to be aware of the design, operational, safety, and maintenance issues surrounding these sites. The roadway maintenance supervisor should pay particular attention to the grade crossings under his or her jurisdiction and coordinate with the railroad as necessary to resolve any problems. The maintenance supervisor should also contact the grade crossing program administrator as necessary should any improvements be desired.

C. References

Federal Highway Administration Survey of Region and Division Offices, unpublished, 1984.

Maintenance Cost Study of Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Warning Systems. Washington, DC: Association of American Railroads, October 1982.

* Includes previously unpublished materials provided by Ray Lewis, West Virginia Department of Transportation.

131 23CFR Part 655, FHWA Docket No, FHWA-2003-15149, Federal Register, May 8, 2006,

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