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Ask Trains: Can train crews turn off crossing gates?

By | October 17, 2019

Published: Oct. 17, 2019

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Q: Do train crews have the ability to activate or deactivate crossing lights and gates? — Richard Collingwood, Milan, Ohio

A: No. Here’s why: Crossing circuits have set approaches based off of warning time required and maximum speed of the trains. The modern day crossing processors — mini computers inside a crossing gate bungalow (the metal shed near the tracks) — can run in either prediction mode that provides a constant warning time to crossing for various train speeds or motion detection.

The processor, in either case, detects the shunt/short of the trains leading axles and either predicts when this shunt will arrive at the crossing and activate the crossing at programmed warning time in case of predictor, or just start the crossing in the motion detector mode.

Crossing processors today pass a low voltage current along both rails. The metal wheels and axles of a train complete the circuit — shunt — and the location and speed of the shunt where trains complete the circuit is what the crossing processors are measuring. Signal maintainers can also simulate shunt the track with tools designed to complete the circuit.

With both mode types (predictor/motion detector), once a train stops approaching, the processor detects the stop and will allow the crossing to time out and gates to pick up. Some programming features allow for a motion restart within so many feet of the crossing. The crossing island, which is between the circuit’s transmit and receiver bootleg wires, and extends over the road, is an absolute crossing start and any train or shunt with in it will keep a crossing active.

Typically, a crossing predictor or motion detector is tuned for a value of “100%” of the approach. The unit can detect then where this shunt stops with the approach based off the preset value. Once the approach is completely occupied by the train, it is the island that keeps the crossing active. — A class I railroad signal technician

UPDATED: Oct. 22, 2019, 3:20 p.m. Central time.

4 thoughts on “Ask Trains: Can train crews turn off crossing gates?

  1. Perhaps the first words should have been Yes or No. then the narrative. I’m going to assume it’s a No answer.

  2. Jesse and Mike, the answer starts with a “no” and does answer the question, but it’s way too technical to make sense to most readers. While Trains readers are devoted to the industry, answers to Ask Trains need to be written for the layman, not the expert.

  3. From my experience of railfanning and asking questions… I have noticed that on the SFRTA (Tri-Rail) route from Miami to West Palm Beach, engineers use DTMF tones to activate certain crossings in situations like a crossing being directly after a station platform. I have never seen them manually deactivate using these tones, but I for sure have seen them using the tones to activate crossings. I even asked an engineer about it and he confirmed this to me.

    Have a nice day!!!

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