Date of Award


Document Type

Open Access Master's Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Applied Cognitive Science and Human Factors (MS)

Administrative Home Department

Department of Cognitive and Learning Sciences

Advisor 1

Elizabeth Veinott

Committee Member 1

Pasi Lautala

Committee Member 2

Kelly Steelman


Vehicle-train collisions at highway-rail grade crossings (HRGCs) continue to be a safety concern, and despite improvements in warnings, many of these incidents are attributed to human error. In some cases, distractions other than railroad traffic, such as HRGCs with limited space between the railroad tracks and the highway intersection, may create additional cognitive burdens for drivers. We investigated the effect of HRGC type (short-storage vs. non-short storage) on driver attention and decision-making in two studies. In Study 1, we systematically analyzed 996 incidents from 2017-2019 from the Federal Railroad Administration’s Safety database. Driver decision making and outcomes were different depending on HRGC type, with more train strikes in short storage incidents, as opposed to vehicle strikes. Study 2 was a controlled lab experiment in which drivers identified safety concerns in driving images. Drivers reported more safety concerns, and rated them more important in images of short-storage HRGCs than non-short storage HRGCs. This pattern did not depend on their rural or urban driving experience. Eye-tracking analysis found some differences in search behavior depending on the type of HRGC. This research contributes to a new area of research in rail safety, as studies comparing the two types of HRGCs have previously not been done. Interventions for non-short-storage HRGCs may not apply to short-storage HRGCs if it is found that drivers approach them differently.