Level crossing boom barriers – timber or metal?

If you take a close look a level crossing, you might’ve noticed something about the boom barriers used to prevent cars driving onto the tracks. Some are made of metal.

Level crossing activates at Werribee Street in Werribee, long before the next train is due to arrive

Aluminium channel to be specific.

Westinghouse LED lamp unit on a boom barrier

And others are made of timber.

Boom barriers go up at the Macaulay Road level crossing, Kensington

Two separate pieces, tied together to form a truss.

Surplus level crossing boom barriers in the compound at Blackburn

So what gives?

The answer is above you

Look up – at the 1500 volt DC traction power used to power Melbourne suburban trains.

Dumbarse motorists queue over the Groves Street level crossing in Aspendale

Level crossings on the suburban network use timber boom barriers, because if they get pushed into the overhead wires, the last thing you want is something metal forming a conductive path.

Victorian Railways 'DANGER contact with overhead wires will cause DEATH' sign at Showgrounds station

While V/Line and freight lines are free to use the simpler and cheaper metal boom barriers, as they don’t have the same electrical safety concerns.

Boom barrier sits over the top of a truck at the Dock Link Road level crossing

Just the usual worries about vehicles driving through them.

Boom barriers lower at Station Street, North Shore

Footnote: swapping metal for timber

In 2012 suburban trains were extended to Sunbury, by electrifying the existing railway.

N460 arrives into Diggers Rest with an up commuter service

As a result every level crossing between Watergardens and Sunbury had to have the metal boom barrier arms removed.

Google Street View 2009

And replaced with timber ones.

Google Street View 2018

And on language

In Victorian the official name for the arms that lower to prevent road vehicles from crossing the tracks is “boom barrier” – not “boom gates”.

The term boom barriers is synonymous with the term level crossing gates. It is used to denote flashing lights and half road boom barriers.

Crossing gates that swing across the tracks and are operated from a signal box are called “interlocked gates”.

Lydiard Street crossing gates start to open at Ballarat station

While gates that need to be moved by hand are called “hand gates”.

Opening up the Coral Street hand gates

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10 Responses to “Level crossing boom barriers – timber or metal?”

  1. Chris Gordon says:

    Fiberglass ones are type approved for use on the Metro network. So there are actually three types available.

    You will find fiberglass ones around the country areas if you look, and the odd ball crossing at Oakview Lane (Mt. Ararat Road) between Pakenham and Nar Nar Goon, which was transferred from V/Line to Metro but not changed out to wooden booms because the wires stop before that crossing.

  2. Andrew says:

    Well, who would have guessed that. Most interesting.

  3. Toby Adams says:

    The best boomgates is one which does not exist!

  4. William D P says:

    I’m an American railfan and I knew boom barriers were made of wood, aluminum, and fiberglass. We don’t call them boom barriers here in the United States of America, we usually call them crossing gates or crossing arms and like in Australia, our gates have three red lights on them including some of the ones used in the Land Down Under!

    I’m just now learning that down in Australia it’s better to use timber gates on electric rail lines than the metal ones and I see why now! I’m wondering now if that was the reason all the gates on the Chicago South Shore and South Bend Railroad, which was and still is electric, were made of wood (timber) while other railroads used the simpler gates. The CSS&SB is owned by the Northern Indiana Commuter Transportation District.

    The “timber” gates used in the USA we call them wishbone gates, A-gates, A-frame gates, and A-Type gates, at least HO scale signal manufacturer NJ International calls them “A-Type gates. Those types of gates are the gates with two bottom sections that meet at the top and sometimes have a third vertical section in between the lower parts that continue upwards. For a little more info on them see this page on wishbone gates https://trains-and-locomotives.fandom.com/wiki/Wishbone_Crossing_Gate. Australian boom gates will be added to this page.

    Unfortunately the USA has pretty much abandoned the use of the timber wishbone gates in favor of the simpler aluminum and or fiberglass gates, even on electrified railways! In fact some of our gates are aluminum on the bottom but fiberglass on top! And even the NICTD South Shore isn’t using the timber gates anymore despite the use of the overhead catenary wires, now even they’re using the simpler gates though I believe those are made completely out of fiberglass!

    So whereas in Australia they replace the simpler gates with timber wishbone-shaped gates, at least on railways with overhead catenary wires, we in the USA are or have been replacing the timber wishbone-shaped gates with simpler gates. My guess is it saves money. Wooden gates are also more of a strain on the signals and if knocked out by a vehicle or by strong wind, it can be lots of work to replace. So instead the non-wishbone aluminum and or fiberglass gates are used and some use a breakaway pin so if knocked out by a vehicle or strong wind, it’s less damaging to the rest of the signal. And depending on the condition of the fallen gate, it can easily be reattached! Wooden gates aren’t as easily repairable and are likely more work and more expensive to replace!

    Thanks for making this page and for this information, I could use it as I’d like to know more about railway boom barriers whether over in Australia, here in the USA, or anywhere else!

    • Marcus Wong says:

      Thanks for the link and overseas examples.

      Australia does used a bit of kit imported from the USA, I’ve found a few Safetran Systems Corp boom barrier mechanisms over the years.

      Safetran Systems Corp boom barrier mechanism

      As well as much older ones by the Western Railroad Supply Co.

      Western Railroad Supply Co. 'Improved Highway Crossing Signal Mechanism' boom gate motor

    • Marcus Wong says:

      I’ve also since discovered that here on the electrified network in Melbourne they’ve just rolled out aluminium booms with a fiberglass tip – I suspect to address the electrical hazard.

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