The US Railroad Crossbuck: A Brief History & Fun Facts

What does the Crossbuck Indicate?

Railroad Crossbuck Sign

[Izumi LaCorte] via [unsplash.com]

The Crossbuck is a traffic sign that indicates there is a level railway crossing, always paired with a yield sign or stop sign and sometimes combined with with flashing lights, a bell, or a gate that descends to block the road and prevent traffic from crossing the tracks. 

What constitutes a railroad Crossbuck.

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The Railroad Crossbuck is a sign composed of two slats of wood or metal of equal length, fastened together on a pole in an X-formation. In the US, the Crossbuck carries the words "Rail" and "Road" on one arm and "crossing" on the other, in black text on white reflective sheeting. 

Crossbucks of the Past


In the first few decades of the railroad, warning signs weren't needed, but with more railroads being built and trains getting faster, it was time to put safety measures in place. Early versions of railroad crossing signage was intricate and delayed comprehension of the message. 

 

railroad-crossbuck-variations-of-the-past

[unknown] via [thehenryford.org]

As you can see in the image above, the Crossbuck didn't always look like the one we see at every railroad crossing today. Back then, designs differed by railroad company, though most crossing signs shared common attributes. Examples of Crossbuck variations of the past are pictured below. 

historical photo of United States railroad Crossbuck

[unknown] via [thehenryford.org]

historical danger signals at railroad crossing

[unknown] via [thehenryford.org]

history of US railroad crossings

[unknown] via [whippanyrailwaymuseum.net]

It was the the popularity of the automobile that led to the need for appropriate signage at railroad crossings. Back then, early drivers were not conditioned in proper roadway safety, let alone know to stop and look both ways at railroad crossings. Also, horse back riders had much better peripheral awareness than their car driving counterparts and the first production car didn't have the quiet driving experience that we know today.

These variables directly led to an uptick in train and car collisions, so railroad companies began to pay people to man railroad crossing gates in an attempt to mitigate the unprecedented epidemic of train and automobile accidents (example pictured below). This soon proved to be too expensive so railroad companies were forced to look for more affordable options. 

historical photo of manned cabin at railroad crossing

[unknown] via [whippanyrailwaymuseum.net]

Improving the Railroad Crossbuck

railroad Crossbuck with cataphote reflectors

[unknown] via [whippanyrailwaymuseum.net]

According to whippanyrailwaymuseum.net, in the mid 1920's, sign makers began using road reflectors called cataphote reflectors or "cat eyes" on Crossbuck signs to make them more visible to motorists at night. 

cataphote reflector from cataphote corporation

[Cataphote Corporation] via [RoadTrafficSigns.com]

According to roadtrafficsigns.com, a cataphote reflector is a "type of retroflective bead used in street signs to increase visibility without causing light pollution or disruption."

The Railroad Crossbuck Today

current railroad Crossbuck

[Russ Ward] via [unsplash.com]

Today, railroad crossbucks are laminated with highly-retroreflective sheeting to provide reflectivity. At Interstate SignWays, we use 3M Diamond Grace DG3 reflective sheeting. This is to ensure superior reflectivity at one of the most dangerous intersections motorists come across. 

3M diamond grade sheeting  

[unknown] via [3M.com]

You can purchase your own Railroad Crossbuck today!

Online MUTCD store with railroad Crossbuck

Click the photo or here to go to our online MUTCD store. 

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