What Do Railroad Signal Lights Mean?


Engineering a train is a complicated job that requires extensive preparation. Unlike roads, trains going in either direction need to share a piece of track. To keep everyone safe, railroad traffic lights help to lead the way.

What Do Railroad Signal Lights Mean?
(Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media)

If trains are all on time and running perfectly, then there would be no need for signal lights. Unfortunately, problems happen, and the signal lights warn the engineer of potential dangers.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media

The signal lights will also show the engineer which track he should be on, especially when entering or leaving a station.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media

There are two types of signals that are used by the railroads: permissive and absolute. Permissive signals give the engineer a choice on whether or not to go, but absolute signals need to be followed no matter what.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media

A semaphore resembles a small tower with lights in pairs on it. The lights that signal the engineer are on the semaphore.

If one light is covered and the other is green, it means that the track is clear and to go. A red light, which is absolute, means to stop.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media

Sometimes both lights show. Green over red instructs the engineer to slow down and be ready to stop at the next signal. Red over green also warns to be ready to stop, but the train will be able to go after stopping.

Sarah Vantassel/Demand Media


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