Investigation of Retroreflective Sign Materials at Passive Railroad Crossings

Report No: 95-R22

Published in 1995

About the report:

The goal of this study was to determine the best configuration of retroreflective material on Railroad Crossing (crossbuck) signs and posts for improving the visibility and safety of passive highway-railroad grade crossings at night. The material costs of upgrading existing crossbucks with the retroreflectorized crossbuck systems were also explored. Five configurations for marking crossbucks and posts were developed and installed at five passive grade crossings on the Virginia Southern Railroad line between Fort Mitchell and Green Bay, Virginia. At each crossing, photographs of each approach were taken at night using only the low beams and high beams of a vehicle for illumination. To supplement the photographs, researchers videotaped driving through the crossings at night. Each location was driven through twice, once with low beams and once with high beams. Researchers also videotaped a train traveling through each crossing. The photographs and videotape were used as the media for a subjective analysis of which of the five systems was most visible at night. The subjective analysis consisted of one-on-one interviews with 19 individuals watching the videotapes of the systems and answering a questionnaire survey. Although the sample size was limited by the time constraints of the study, results indicated that the double-sided crossbuck with retroreflective material along the full length of both sides of both posts was preferred. If used throughout the Commonwealth, this system will improve: 1) the visibility of the crossing; 2) the uniformity with which passive crossings are marked; 3) the driver's depth perception of the crossing; and 4) the driver's ability to detect a train in the crossing.

Disclaimer Statement:The contents of this report reflect the views of the author(s), who is responsible for the facts and the accuracy of the data presented herein. The contents do not necessarily reflect the official views or policies of the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Commonwealth Transportation Board, or the Federal Highway Administration. This report does not constitute a standard, specification, or regulation. Any inclusion of manufacturer names, trade names, or trademarks is for identification purposes only and is not to be considered an endorsement.


  • Stephen C. Brich

Last updated: December 18, 2023

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