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Billups Neon Crossing Signal facts for kids

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The Billups Neon Crossing Signal was a special signal to warn car and truck drivers that a train was coming. It was placed at a dangerous Illinois Central railroad crossing on Mississippi State Route 7 in Grenada, Mississippi.

It was put up in the mid-1930s by inventor Alonzo Billups. Mr. Billups and the railroad were worried; the crossing had many accidents between trains and motor vehicles. He wanted drivers who were going to cross the tracks to know that a train was coming and he wanted to do it in a very big way. The Billups signal was built like a giant steel gantry which went up and over the entire highway. This is similar to crossing signals used today in North America; Mr. Billups' signal may have been the very first time such a signal was built. A pair of flashing red lights similar to those used today topped giant neon signs on either side of the big gantry. The signs lit up with the words "Stop-DEATH-Stop" along with a neon skull and crossbones. Flashing neon arrows pointed toward the train to tell drivers which way the train was coming. The Billups Neon Crossing Signal even had a special way of warning drivers with sound. Instead of the electric or electronic bells used now, this signal used a very loud air raid siren.

After World War II started, neon became hard to get. The signal had electrical problems as well. Often, the air raid siren would go off even if no train was coming and it wouldn't shut off until the railroad sent a repair crew. No more of these special signals were ever built and the only one ever built was taken down after less than twenty years.

  • Kalmbach Publishing, TRAINS Magazine, May 2003, Stop-DEATH-Stop, "Railroad Reading"
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