Questions arise over yield signs at railroad crossings in Arnold, New Kensington


Oct. 6, 2017

This yeild sign was installed last month at the intersection of Drey Street and Constitution Boulevard. Railroad administration officials say most crossings are marked with yield signs.

Train stats by county:
Allegheny: 209 public crossings, 75 with gates. 19 injuries, two fatal, since July 2016.
Armstrong: 36 public crossings, two with gates. No casualties in the last year.
Butler: 84 public crossings, 20 with gates. One non-fatal injury since July 2016.
Westmoreland: 85 public crossings, 29 with gates. Two non-fatal injuries since July 2016.
Source: Federal Railroad Administration

Motorists traveling in Arnold and New Kensington may have noticed yield signs have been put into place at some railroad crossings.

Dennis Haracznak lives on Constitution Boulevard, which parallels the train tracks and, last month, asked Arnold officials why they decided to mark those crossings with yield signs instead of standard railroad crossing arms and lights.

It turns out the answer is a little complicated.

First, according to City Manager George Hayfield, municipalities have no say in how the railroad company, in this case the Allegheny Valley Railroad division of Carload Express, marks their crossings. The city of Arnold, therefore, didn't decide whether rail crossing should or shouldn't have gates.

“It's their right of way; they have the final say on how those crossings are marked,” Hayfield explained.

Second, according to Vicky Moore, a trustee with the rail safety advocacy group The Angels on Track Foundation, putting a passive warning sign up actually meets the minimum requirements of the Federal Railroad Administration's rules on crossings.

“It's the minimum you can have at a railroad crossing, and railroad companies love this kind of signage because there is no maintenance cost,” she said.

Carload Express did not return a request for comment.

Warren Flatau, a spokesperson for the FRA, said “all passive public crossings are to be equipped with a crossbuck assembly by Dec. 31, 2019. The assembly consists of the standard crossbuck sign with reflective striping on the back of the sign and on both sides of the post.

“In addition, a yield sign is the default traffic control device for such crossbuck assemblies on all public highway approaches to passive grade crossings, unless an engineering study performed by the (state or local) regulatory agency or highway authority having jurisdiction over the roadway approach, determines that a stop sign is appropriate.”

Using a yield sign puts the responsibility for any accident that occurs at a rail crossing on the vehicle driver instead of the rail company, Moore said.

“If there were gates and lights there and they didn't activate, that's the railroad's responsibility. By installing signs, they are putting responsibility on the driver,” she said.

Data provided by the railroad administration show that 13,213 injuries involving trains occurred in Pennsylvania in the past 20 years, with 567 people killed. The same data show that, so far this year, there have been 14 train-related deaths in the state.

There are more than 209,308 railroad crossings in the United States and about 129,326 intersect with public roads, the majority of which are marked with just a sign, according to the railroad administration.

“They know (signs) are zero protection, but it is a cheap fix. You can't push someone out of an airplane without a parachute and expect them to land safely, but this is exactly what they are doing at these railroad crossings,” Moore said.

As far as the tracks in New Kensington and Arnold are concerned, the yield signs are most likely sufficient for safety considering the low volume of traffic. The tracks marked with yield signs, crossing Drey Street, 14th Street, and Constitution Boulevard, are not used often, and the railroad administration's data lists no regularly scheduled train movements on those tracks.

There hasn't been an accident at those intersections in the past decade, according to the same data set.

Arnold Councilman Phil McKinley said “you would have to wait a while” for a train to come by and present a hazard to passing cars.

Matthew Medsger is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-226-4675,, or on Twitter @matthew_medsger.