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What do you call those places where a railroad crosses an automobile road?:

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Of course, I've heard what they are called in English, but I suspect that they are referred to differently depending on whether the speaker is from UK, USA, Canada or Australia. So, please, specify in your answer what type of English you mean.

I also heard that these places can be referred to differently even within one country because of some subtle differences pertaining to those places. I don't really know what those differences are. It may be the width of the automobile road, or the difference in height between the level of the railroad and the automobile road, or, perhaps, the presence/absence of that red-white thing that goes down and up every time when the train passes.

Also, what do you call that very red-white thing itself? Especially, how would you describe its motions in this kind of sentence:

"At the (place), when the (thing) finally (lowered), it was obvious I would be late for the party"

What words you would substitute for those used in parentheses above?

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+1 for the model pictures; 1st one reminds me of my great-uncle's train set from many years ago. –  Will Dec 6 '10 at 18:21
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There is something adventurous about the phrase "the place where the railroad crosses the road", it is a place I would like to go, please keep it. –  Remou Dec 6 '10 at 19:06
    
As this has multiple right answers, this would be better as a community wiki. –  Armstrongest Dec 6 '10 at 19:22
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5 Answers

up vote 13 down vote accepted

I can't think of many terms for this... all I can think of is a crossing or railroad crossing (Merriam Webster).

As for the "red-white" thing I would call it a gate or railway/railroad crossing gate - very descriptive terms, but that is what I would use.

As for your sentence I would say "At the railroad crossing, when the gates finally lowered, it was obvious I would be late for the party".

Check out the "Rail crossing warning signs" from Wisconsin, there might be other resources from other parts of the English speaking world?

AFAIK, barrier is more common in British English for the "gates" talked about above. Australian English i have heard of booms - but about these two I'm not the one who should be asked ;-)

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Thank you very much Moontear for your answer and for the links!!! –  brilliant Dec 6 '10 at 15:22
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In the UK, this is referred to as a level crossing, the name implying that the road and rails are on the same level, as opposed to one going over the other via a bridge or tunnel.

The red and white things are barriers. They lower or come down to block the road.

So your example sentence becomes:

"At the level crossing, when the barriers finally came down, it was obvious I would be late for the party."

British level crossings which have automated barriers also have red and yellow lights near the crossing. The red lights start flashing a few seconds before the barriers come down, and stop flashing after the barriers have gone up.

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Before reading this explanation, this native speaker of American English would've been utterly puzzled about what the heck a "level crossing" is. I'm not sure I would've even been able to categorize it as something having to do with transportation. It's a railroad crossing, plain and simple. If there's a bridge or a tunnel, it's not a crossing. –  Marthaª Dec 6 '10 at 18:06
    
This is what we say in Canada too. However, I agree with Martha in that some people may not have heard of the term "level crossing" and wouldn't understand it out of context. Perhaps the term "level crossing" is slightly formal/technical and the lay population would expect to hear "railway crossing". –  Mr. Shiny and New 安宇 Dec 6 '10 at 18:10
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I, in Ireland, would not characterise level crossing as being in any way technical. It's the normal term for when a railway (not railroad) crosses a road. –  TRiG Dec 6 '10 at 18:59
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@Martha As English is the mother tongue of Britain and that is pretty much the sole phrase in use for that type of crossing, that is what it is called. ;-) –  Orbling Dec 6 '10 at 22:24
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It would be worth noting that a level crossing is where the RAILWAY crosses the road - there are no railroads at all in England. –  Jonathan Leffler Dec 6 '10 at 23:43
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In the US, these kinds of railroad crossing are often referred to as "grade-level crossings" or just "grade crossings" - "grade" means that the railroad and car road are at the same height (no overpass or underpass).

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I've never heard "grade-level crossing" or "grade crossing." Is that perhaps a Northern thing? I live in GA, and I've always heard them called a "train crossing," "railroad crossing," "crossing" or "train tracks." As for the red and white things, I don't know that I've ever heard them called anything. –  Joey Gibson Dec 6 '10 at 23:01
    
Grade crossing usually serves to differentiate this type of crossing from those where a railroad passes over or under a road. However, I would only use "grade crossing" if I'm trying to differentiate between this type and a nearby bridge (over or under). –  Paul Fisher Dec 7 '10 at 3:39
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People in Western Canada refer to them as "Railroad Crossings", so:

"At the railroad crossing, when the gate finally came down, it was obvious I would be late for the party."

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How do you call those places where a railroad crosses an automobile road?:

Of course, I've heard how they are called in English, but I suspect that they are called differently depending on whether the speaker is from UK, USA, Canada or Australia. So, please, specify in your answer what type of English you mean.

Not just where the speaker is from. It also depends on which form of English you learn and, which form you use.

First of all, you don't need to use the word automobile with the word road. It is not necessary. Also, the word is not necessary anyway, because it is obsolete and not normally used in the UK.

To answer your first question, those places are called level crossings. The word railroad does not exist in British English. Nobody uses it in the UK. The word railway is the normal British word.

See these:

For level crossing:

http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/level-crossing

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/level-crossing?q=level+crossing

For the word railway:

http://www.ldoceonline.com/dictionary/railway

http://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/british/railway?q=railway

I also heard that these places can be called differently even within one country because of some subtle differences pertaining to those places. I don't really know what those differences are. It may be the width of the automobile road, or the difference in height between the level of the railroad and the automobile road, or, perhaps, the presence/absence of that red-white thing that goes down and up every time when the train passes.

Also, how do you call that very red-white thing itself? Especially, how would you describe its motions in this kind of sentence:

"At the (place), when the (thing) finally (lowered), it was obvious I would be late for the party"

What words you would substitute for those used in parentheses above?

That “red-white thing” is usually called a barrier. Considering that there are usually two of them, the plural form barriers is usually used. Sometimes they are called gates.

For your sentence, in the UK that can be:

At the level crossing, when the barriers finally came down, it was obvious I would be late for the party.

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protected by RegDwigнt May 1 '12 at 16:57

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