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An example of the potential complexity of grade separation, seen in the Circle Interchange, United States.
The concept of grade separation includes all transport modes, such as a simple pedestrian bridge over rail tracks.

Grade separation is the process of aligning a junction of two or more transport axes at different heights (grades) so that they will not disrupt the traffic flow on other transit routes when they cross each other. The composition of such transport axes does not have to be uniform; it can consist of a mixture of roads, footpaths, railways, canals, or airport runways. Bridges, tunnels, or a combination of both can be built at a junction to achieve the needed grade separation.

In North America, a grade-separated junction may be referred to as a grade separation[1] or as an interchange – in contrast with an intersection or an at-grade, which are not grade-separated.

Contents

Effects

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Advantages

Roads with grade separation generally allow traffic to move freely, with fewer interruptions, and at higher overall speeds; this is why speed limits are typically higher for grade-separated roads. In addition, less conflict between traffic movements reduces the capacity for accidents. Motorways, though having higher average speeds, usually have much lower accident rates per distance travelled than roads which are not grade separated.

Disadvantages

However, grade-separated junctions are very space-intensive, complicated, and costly, due to the need for large physical structures such as tunnels, ramps, and bridges. Their height can be obtrusive, and this, combined with the large traffic volumes that grade-separated roads attract, tend to make them unpopular to nearby landowners and residents. New grade-separated road plans can receive significant opposition from local groups for these reasons.

Rail-over-rail grade separations take up less space than road grade separations, because shoulders are not needed, there are generally fewer branches and side road connections to accommodate (because a partial grade separation will accomplish more improvement than for a road), and because at-grade railway connections often take up significant space on their own. However, they require significant engineering effort, and are very expensive and time-consuming to construct.

Rail-over-road grade separations require very little additional space because no connections need be built, but require significant engineering effort and are expensive and time-consuming to construct.

Roads

Overview

The term is most widely applied to describe a road junction in which the direct flow of traffic on one or more of the roads is not disrupted. Instead of a direct connection, traffic must use on and off ramps (United States, Australia, New Zealand) or slip roads (United Kingdom, Ireland) to access the other roads at the junction. The road which carries on through the junction can also be referred to as grade separated.

Typically, large freeways, highways, motorways, or dual carriageways are chosen to be grade separated, through their entire length or for part of it. Grade separation drastically increases the capacity of a road compared to an identical road with at-grade junctions. For instance, it is extremely uncommon to find an at-grade junction on a British motorway; it is all but impossible on a U.S. Interstate Highway, though a few do exist.

If traffic can traverse the junction from any direction without being forced to come to a halt, then the junction is described as fully grade separated or free-flowing.

Types

Fully separated

These junctions connect two roads:

4 level stack interchange between the M25 (in the foreground) and M23 in England.
  • Stack interchange (two-level, three-level, or four-level stack, depending on how many levels cross at the central point)
  • Cloverleaf interchange
  • Compact grade-separation, whereby the two roads are linked by a compact "connector road", with major-minor priority junctions at each of its ends; usually a variant of the cloverleaf type interchange, but only involving two quadrants rather than four

Partially separated

These junctions connect two roads, but only one is fully grade-separated, i.e. traffic on one road does not have to stop at yield lines or signals on one road, but may have to do so when switching to the other:

Other variants

These junctions connect three or more roads:

These junctions terminate one road into another:

Weaving

Weaving is a consequence of having too many grade separated junctions on a road in a short distance, where traffic wanting to leave the grade-separated road at the next junction has to fight for road space with traffic which has just entered from the previous one.

This situation is most prevalent either where the junction designer has placed the on-slip to the road before the off-slip at a junction (for example, the cloverleaf interchange), or in urban areas with lots of close-spaced junctions. The ring road of Coventry (United Kingdom) is a notorious example, as are parts of the southern M25 motorway (the ring road around London).

Weaving can be alleviated by using collector/distributor roads to separate entering and exiting traffic.

Railways

Attempts have been made to increase the capacity of railways by making tracks cross in a grade-separated manner, as opposed to the traditional use of flat crossings to change tracks. A grade-separated rail interchange is known as a flying junction and one which is not a level junction.

In 1897, the London and South Western Railway (LSWR) made use of a flying junction at Worting Junction south of Basingstoke to allow traffic on the Salisbury and Southampton routes to converge without conflicting movements; this became known as "Battledown Flyover". Also in Britain, the Southern Railway later made extensive use of flying junctions on other parts of its busy former LSWR main line.

Today in Britain, the tightly grouped nest of flying junctions[2] to the north of Clapham Junction railway station—although technically a combination of many junctions—handle more than 4,000 trains per day (about one train every 15 seconds).

In the French TGV system, all high-speed junctions are grade-separated. The three fully grade-separated high-speed triangles on the LGV system are capable of being taken at speeds between 160 km/h–320 km/h (100 mph–200 mph).

In the United States, a flying junction on the Nickel Plate Road through Cleveland, Ohio, United States was completed in 1910. The most frequent use was later found on the former Pennsylvania Railroad main lines. The lines are included as part of the Northeast Corridor and Keystone Corridor now owned by Amtrak. The most complex of these junctions, near Philadelphia Zoo, handles railway traffic for Amtrak, SEPTA, New Jersey Transit, Norfolk Southern, CSX Transportation, and Conrail.

In railway construction, grade separation also means the avoidance of level crossings by making any roads crossing the line either pass under or over the railway on bridges. This greatly improves safety and is crucial to the safe operation of high-speed lines. The London Extension of the Great Central Railway, built between 1896 and 1899, was the first fully grade-separated railway of this type in the UK.

References


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