Access Type

Open Access Dissertation

Date of Award

January 2015

Degree Type


Degree Name



Civil and Environmental Engineering

First Advisor

Timothy J. Gates


Analysis of traffic queues at signalized intersections which are in close proximity to highway- railroad grade crossings is of primary importance for determining if the normal signal operation needs to be preempted for railroad operations by providing a special signal mode for safe clearance of the queued vehicles from the tracks before the train arrival, and prohibiting any conflicting traffic movements towards the crossing. Such queuing analysis becomes even more critical where direct observations of traffic queues are not possible or where the assessment is needed for a future location. Inadequate estimation of queues from signalized intersections to the nearby railroad grade crossing can lead to severe safety issues. Underestimation of queue lengths may lead to an unsafe design while significantly overestimated queues may cause unnecessary traffic delays consequently leading to violations of the active traffic control devices at the crossing. In order to determine an adequate approach for reasonable estimation of queue lengths at signalized intersections near highway-railroad grade crossings, this dissertation first evaluated and compared different currently used microscopic simulation-based methods (i.e. Sim-Traffic and VISSIM) for their adequacy in estimating the queue lengths. After that several comparisons are made between the queue estimation from the simulation-based and other deterministic analytical methods including Highway Capacity Software, Synchro, and Railroad Assessment Tool.

The comparisons drawn between each method helped identifying the differences and specific limitations of each method in including the impact of various important factors on the resulting queue estimation. The recommendations are provided on the basis of model capability to adequately count the impact of various significant traffic factors on queue estimation and considering minimizing the risk of underestimated queues.

Based on the analysis findings, a microscopic simulation based procedure is developed using Sim-Traffic for estimating the 95th percentile queue lengths on various existing signalized intersection configurations near highway-rail grade crossings to help evaluate the need for signal preemption. In addition, recommendations are developed, if preemption is necessary, for determining queue clearance distance and minimum track clearance time. The recommended procedure is developed considering minimizing the risk of underestimated queues or unsafe design at such locations, and simplify the design and decision-making process.