Sunday, June 12, 2011

Signs and Symbols In the Mind's Eye

Italian rail crossing sign showing steam locomotive.The "Feedback" column in the 14 May 2011 edition of "New Scientist" asks why the warning signs at railway crossings in the UK features a drawing of a steam train, which have not operated on the tracks in decades. Australia and many other countries use a similar diagram of a steam for their railway level crossing warning sign, whereas Germany uses a drawing of a modern electric locomotive.

Research has shown that the curved steam train shape is much more recognisable than the box like modern train shape. People would be familiar with the shape of a steam train from children's books and films, even if they had never seen a real one. Therefore the steam train sign is safer:



Most level crossings have light traffic and good accident records and the only protection that can be justified in cost benefit terms is a system of warning signs. The Australian standard specifies a warning sign using the "cross bucks" symbol which might not be correctly interpreted and might also be confused with the crossroads warning sign. Wigglesworth, in a review of level crossing protection for the Ministry of Transport, Victoria, recommended the adoption of a train symbol. The UN protocol symbol is a steam train but steam trains are no longer used on scheduled railway services. However, a diesel train symbol does not have distinctive features easily adaptable to symbolic representation and such a symbol might not have an adequate legibility distance. This paper compares the two Australian standard railway warning signs, a steam train symbol and two diesel train symbols. The criteria for evaluation are interpretability and legibility distance. Consideration is also given to what are the community stereotypes for a railway warning sign. It is concluded that the steam train symbol remains a community stereotype despite the rarity of steam trains; is likely to be correctly interpreted and has a long legibility
distance. (Author/TRRL)...

Authors: Cole, B L Jacobs, R J

Publication Date: 1981-12

Serial: Australian Road Research Volume: 11 Issue Number: 4
Publisher: Australian Road Research Board
ISSN: 0005-0164

No comments: