Step by step instructions on how to make a model railroad level crossing.
Covers automatic operation, making gates and lights, approach signs and footprint.
Selection Of Systems And Devices
The selection of traffic control devices at a grade crossing is determined by public agencies having jurisdictional responsibility at specific ocations.
Active grade crossing traffic control systems range from:
1. post mounted flashing light signals
2. automatic gates combined with
(a) post mounted flashing light signals
(b) cantilever flashing light signals,
(c) a combination of the above.
Any of the foregoing may or may not incorporate a bell.
Due to the number of significant variables which must be considered, there is no single standard system of active traffic control devices universally applicable to grade crossings. Modelers must especially consider the era and region portrayed by their scene.
US, English and European, for example use very different forms of gates.
In a sense, the choice of gates and lights on a model railroad is scene dependent.
Due to the many different types, we will necessarily be constrained to discuss only a few in detail while at the same time giving the reader the knowledge necessary to adapt equipment to his region.
What Is In This Page
Because of the preference for video, we start with a series on layout animation which series contains grade crossing tutorials.
The grade crossing videos are followed by level crossing design considerations plus, at the bottom of the page, links out to very specific step by step instructions on making an automated model railroad level crossing.
Grade Crossing Tutorials
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Level Crossing General Considerations
Automated model railroad level crossings are controlled by some form of sensor. The number of sensors depends on the number of tracks passing through the crossing.
A multi-track crossing requires a control circuit that takes into account the ability to have two trains in the crossing at the same time. Sign and light requirements also change with the number of tracks.
Prototype railroads generally start the warning and gate lowering process 20 seconds before a train enters the crossing. The distance from the crossing at which the sensor is placed is calculated using the highest speed expected of a train. A modeler will have to set the distance based on the modeler’s fast clock.
Where traffic lights are close to a crossing, they and the gates must have their operation coordinated so that traffic is not stopped on the track when trains are approaching.
Level Crossing Dimensions
The following dimensions should be used to make the crossing itself.
US standards require 12 foot road width with an additional 8 feet for parking.
Other road dimensions used are 10 feet for the driving lane and 6 feet for parking.
Main streets are also measured 32 feet wide and side streets 30 feet.
For HO scale tracks, place them 2 inches on center. Convert these dimensions to your scale.
Level Crossing Materials
As emphasized above, lights and gates are scene related.
It is then a matter of choice as to how much detail you want or how much time, money or effort you want to put into the gates and lights.
Some gates are available commercially. The can be rather expensive.
You can have some 3d printed. This is a site ( STL Finder) that provides files that you can use free. You can find many others where you can buy the files.
They can be scratch built rather easily. Links to tutorials on building them are below.
Automatic Grade Crossing Control Circuitry
Your choice of circuity, like everything else in modeling, is a function of your time, budget, capability and ability.
It is always easiest to buy a commercially made circuit.
But with a little time and a minimum of effort, you can assemble a kit and use operating systems that suit your needs.
In any case a tutorial on making your own is below.
Targeted Level Crossing Tutorials
The gates and lights are small So making them is a challenge. So either purchasing ready made models is a most common choice for modelers. Once they have them in hand, it is just a matter of installing the operating mechanism.
For the dedicated scratch builder, tutorials on building these gates and lights shown here and several other types are below.
Servos are mounted directly under the crossing. The servos move wires that are connected to the gate barrier bars. The servos are adjusted to provide proper gate positioning.
The flashing lights and warning bells are synchronized with gate operation.
A tutorial on the installation process is below.
Related Level Crossing Pages
How To Install A Level Crossing In Your Layout. –
How To Add Warning Bells At Model Railroad Level Crossings –
How To Make A Level Crossing Control Circuit Board –
How To Install Automated Level Crossing Operating Mechanism