In 1992, USDOT designated the Washington, DC-Raleigh-Charlotte Southeast Rail Corridor as one of five nationally designated future high-speed rail corridors. Since that time, North Carolina has received special federal funds to improve railroad-crossing safety along this corridor.
The NCDOT has carried out this work in an aggressive manner to eliminate rail-highway at-grade crossings between Raleigh and Charlotte within the North Carolina Railroad Company's corridor.
The Sealed Corridor Project is currently divided into three phases for construction: Phase 1 from Charlotte to Greensboro, Phase 2 from Greensboro to Cary, Phase 3 from Cary to Raleigh. The entire corridor contains 172 public and 46 private railroad crossings.
The first Sealed Corridor improvements were completed at Craighead Road and Sugar Creek Road in Charlotte. At Sugar Creek Road, NCDOT and Norfolk Southern Railway (NS) carried out a test of four-quadrant gates and median separators. Data was collected using a "Violator" video camera. A baseline average of 43 violations per week over a period of 20 weeks was recorded at the crossing, which has an average daily traffic count of 21,402 vehicles. That number was reduced to 10 violations per week when median separators were installed, 6 violations per week when four-quadrant gates were installed, and 1 violation per week when both four-quadrant gates and median separators were installed.
NCDOT and NS have expanded the testing "laboratory" to include the entire railway line between Charlotte and Greensboro. In essence, we are "sealing" the corridor by protecting every public crossing with median separators, longer gate arms, four-quadrant gates and other innovative signage and traffic-control devices. These devices are basically "off the shelf" technologies applied in a new way. NCDOT is safeguarding private crossings along the corridor by installing improved signage and warning devices as special funding allows in addition to closures.
Devices used on Sealed Corridor projects include:
Adding two extra gates to existing signals and gates blocks all lanes of travel across the railroad tracks when the signals are activated. During initial tests at the Sugar Creek Road crossing, the use of four-quadrant gates resulted in a reduction in violations of nearly 86 percent.
Longer Gate Arms
Tests at the Orr Road crossing in Charlotte were conducted to evaluate the effectiveness of longer gate arms on reducing drivers' ability to "run around" the gates. These longer gate arms cover 3/4 of the roadway. Tests at Orr Road have shown an 84-percent reduction of crossing violations. Longer gate arms are used in conjunction with median separators where a separator can be placed on one side of a crossing but not on the other because of a street or driveway connection in close proximity to the crossing.
These devices have proven to be a low-cost investment with a high rate of return in safety at crossings. The separators are installed along the centerline of roadways, in most cases extending approximately 70 to 100 feet from the crossing. They prevent motorists from crossing lanes to "run around" activated crossing gates. The separators consist of prefabricated, mountable islands made of a composite material. Attached to the islands are flat delineator panels or tubes with reflectorized taping for better visibility at night. The delineator panels are flexible yet securely anchored to return to their original positions if struck by a vehicle. Use of median separators at the Sugar Creek Road crossing has resulted in a 77-percent reduction in crossing violations. The use of median separators in conjunction with four-quadrant gates has produced a 98-percent reduction in crossing violations at the Sugar Creek Road crossing. Also being installed, especially in conjunction with roadway-widening projects, are concrete median separators with tubular markers mounted onto them.
New Signs and Pavement Markings
Upgraded signage and pavement markings are being added to crossings as another element of "Sealed Corridor" testing. One of the new signs displays an emergency phone number for the railroad that motorists can call to report any malfunctions of crossing signals.
"Health Monitoring" System
An Intelligent Signal Monitoring System is being installed at each Norfolk Southern maintained public crossing along the Sealed Corridor to notify railroad personnel about malfunctions of crossing equipment. These "health monitoring" devices can also be linked electronically to local authorities to use for re-routing of police, fire and rescue vehicles if a crossing signal is malfunctioning. In the future, highway officials and municipalities may also access the Intelligent Signal Monitoring System for congestion and traffic as part of Intelligent Transportation System applications.
Contact: Paul Worley