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Detailing a Model Railroad Crossing


We see railroad crossings all the time but often don’t stop to notice all of the little details that make each one unique. Besides the obvious differences like the type of warning signals used, there are many subtle details you can customize to better replicate a specific prototype.

Railroad Crossing - Overview

®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

This simple crossing installation on the old Baltimore and Ohio mainline at Fairhope, Pennsylvania is typical of thousands of similar crossings across North America. Here a two-lane asphalt road intersects a two-track railroad.

The rural road is lightly traveled. The tracks see an average of about two dozen trains a day. Mountains and curves on both the road and the rails make visability a concern, justifying the automatic warning lights.

In addition to the obvious details, several smaller details complete the scene. Although easily overlooked, a model often doesn't look quite right without them.

Cross Bucks

®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

<p>In North America, most public road crossings are protected by a warning sign similar to this. The familiar “X”-shaped signs have become a trademark of railroading. Less standard are the warning lights, bells and gates that often accompany the cross bucks. Note that the lights can be positioned to multiple angles depending on the direction of the road. This particular sample seems also to have been involved in some sort of mishap...the lights don’t normally point down!</p>

<p>From simple signs to working lights and gates, a great variety of cross bucks and warning signs are available in every scale. When choosing the right one for your installation, like the prototype you should consider traffic levels on both the rails and the road.</p>

Advance Warning Signs

®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

<p>Placed several hundred feet from the actual crossing, advanced warning signs forewarn motorists of the pending crossing. There are many variations on the American standard sign seen here.  As you can see here, many times these signs aren’t even visible from the actual crossing. Many modelers compress these distances on their layouts.</p>

<p>Don’t forget the road markings as well. These can be recreated using decal or dry transfer stripes and letters or by making a stencil and painting.</p>

Relay Cabinets

®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

All of the electrical hardware to activate the crossing devices must be housed somewhere. Equipment cabinets like this come in many shapes and sizes, depending on the complexity of the installation. The cabinets are often marked with a crossing name, milepost, or other identifying marks.

Commercial castings are available in many scales for cabinets like these. In addition to road crossings, similar structures can be found at signals, equipment defect detectors and other railroad installations.

Detection Circuits

®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Warning lights and gates rely on electrical circuits that can detect the train to activate and deactivate automatically. Some modern circuits can not only detect an approaching train, but consider its speed when activating the protection. Impatient motorists waiting for a slow train are an invitation to disaster.

The visible details of a detection system are nothing more than a few wires attached to the rails at appropriate distances. These could be easily modeled using small wires, but the effect may not be worth the effort in smaller scales. More noticeable will be actually modeling a detection system in line with the crossing signals. Several are available to handle lights, bells and gates on single and multiple tracks.

Road Crossing - Rubber

®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Even in the crossing itself, there is a great variety in the types of materials used to protect the rails and the flange ways for the wheels. Two different types can be found on this sample crossing. Track 1 features a small rubber gasket.

The rubber gaskets are small enough to be recreated by painting plaster asphalt roads. Some crossings feature larger rubber panels covering the entire distance between the rails and along the outside of the rails. Commercial parts are available for these in several scales.

Road Crossing - Wood

®2010 Ryan C Kunkle, licensed to About.com, Inc.

Track 2 of this crossing uses wood ties to protect the flange way. Wood strips could be used to recreate this crossing. Like rubber parts, solid wood crossings are also commonly seen.

The prototype doesn't worry about mixing technologies, why should you! The numbers applied to the road help work crews identify the proper track when putting on hi-rail vehicles. An interesting detail!

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