By Noel T. Braymer

Grade Crossings are the most dangerous place on the railroad where it meets traffic and pedestrians. To warn drivers and pedestrians, the operator of the locomotive has to sound the locomotive’s horn 4 times before running through a grade crossing. Needless to say, particularly on a busy rail line, regular sounding of the train’s horn is very annoying for people living or working near a grade crossing. The train’s horn is the loudest part of a train by far. It has to be in order to get people’s attention who are approaching a grade crossing at train time.

In the last few years the Federal Railroad Administration has developed guidelines for local governments to create “Quiet Zones”. This requires upgrading of grade crossings to be given Quiet Zone status. This cost extra money, although still much less than the cost of full grade separation. Some of these improvements are easy to see. But much of the improvements include improved electronics and additional sensors at the grade crossing which are not visible to the public. Local agencies are increasingly working to bring Quiet Zone Grade Crossings to their communities.


Many grade crossings to this day are like this with only a warning sign and the train’s horn for warning of an approaching train. This picture is only 12 years old. This is the old ATSF Branch Line between Oceanside and Escondido in San Diego County. This line has since been upgrade to local passenger service.


This is another picture of the Oceanside-Escondido Line showing work to upgrade the tracks for passenger service. On this mast is a “Wig-Wag” which was an early 20th century warning device when a train was approaching a crossing. But this crossing like many other didn’t have barriers to warn people not to cross.


These are Quad-Gates on the Gold Line Light Rail service in Los Angeles. The point of these gates is to seal the crossing to to prevent drivers and pedestrians from going around the barriers to beat the train. Sensors in the road delay lowering  the  second barrier from dropping before  vehicles have cleared the crossing. This prevents vehicles from being stuck in the crossing with a train approaching. There are also barriers that come down to discourage pedestrians from trying to beat the train


A Gold Line Train in a Quad Gate rail crossing in Los Angeles.


This is a Quiet Zone crossing in Orange County, California. Recently the county upgraded most of their rail crossings to Quiet Zones. Instead of Quad Gates a median is used in the middle of the road to discourage drivers from driving around the gates. The road is blocked by the barriers in the direction of traffic


At Quiet Zone crossings there is often extra fencing and barriers to discourage pedestrians from trying to run across the tracks at train time.


This is the right of way of the Quiet Zone grade crossing seen in the other pictures. The right of way is fairly narrow making it unlikely that vehicles would drive alongside the tracks. This crossing is next to the Santa Ana train station which is part of the San Ana Regional Transportation Center.


This is the view from the Santa Ana Regional Transportation Center. The platforms and fencing make it unlikely that anyone would drive a vehicle on this part of the railroad right of way.


This picture is from the train showing a swing gate on the railroad right of way. This gate is kept lock to prevent unauthorized drivers and vehicles getting on the right of way. Vehicles on the right of way or tracks have caused accidents in the past.

There are plans in the future for California High Speed Rail service to share existing right of way with other trains between San Jose to San Francisco and from Burbank  near Los Angeles to Anaheim near Disneyland.  On these track segments all crossings with High Speed Trains will have Quiet Zone status. This is both to make the surrounding environment more pleasant and to insure the highest level of safety for the rail passengers and people using or by the rail crossings.