For most people, the railroad is, in a literal sense, background noise. Those who do not commute or work in the railroad industry only get a look at a train when it blocks the road and prevents them from getting to their destination. Since being stopped at a grade crossing is the universal and singular way in which most of us encounter the railroads, the crossbuck, gates and and blinking lights have become an instantly recognizable symbol of the railroad industry as a whole. In this article, we’ll look at the history of grade crossings, and the longstanding question of whether the public or the railroad companies bears the responsibility for preventing collisions.
Before the invention of the railroads, collisions between multiple vehicles were rare. Even the largest wagons were limited to the speed at which a horse could travel, and bearing a runaway carriage or a spooked horse, there was no difficulty in stopping a moving vehicle.