The World's Most Metal Railroad Crossing: The Billups Railroad Crossing

Railroad crossing safety, and safety at railroad tracks, has been an issue that has plagued the industry since its creation. Trains and crossings are far safer today, thanks in no small part due to the work of organizations like Operation Lifesaver, law enforcement professionals, and better engineering.

In 1940, after numerous fatal accidents involving trains at an Illinois Central Railroad crossing on Mississippi Route 7 in Grenada, MS, one of which involved a family member, a man named W.A. Billups attempted to create a railroad crossing nobody could possibly miss. 

The result is below, but that's only a small part of this monstrosity. When an oncoming train approached, the entire structure lit up in neon lights, and an air raid siren blared. 

Known officially as the Billups Neon Crossing Signal, it was given the nickname "Skull and Bones".

DOOM, anyone? Sidney T. Roebuck collection, 1940 image.

The design is ridiculous, huge, and impossible to miss, and this was intentional. It was described as “embodying an appeal to the sense of hearing through piercing sirens and an appeal to the sense of sight through the illumination of neon signs depicting the word ‘Death,’ ‘Stop,’ and the skull and crossbones.”. Arrows on either end of the crossing would show which direction the train was coming from.

And yes, there's a Lionel Model of it.

Whether it ever became patented or not, Billups intended for the design to become a standard railroad crossing - not just at the Grenada stop, although this never came to be.

Due to a scarcity of neon during World War II, numerous maintenance issues with the crossing, such as the siren remaining active after a train had passed, and the general aesthetics of the crossing itself, the prototype was the only one produced, and was replaced by a traditional crossing in 1970. 

The crossing as an IC train passes by at high speed. Source

By the end of the crossing's life, crossbucks with bells were added to the crossing as a backup warning device.

Fred Goff image via RRPictureArchives, 1970

For an idea of how this would look and sound; somebody made an animation of the crossing in motion. I imagine every time a train would activate the crossing, at least a few people assumed an air raid was coming, especially since World War II was ongoing throughout the first five years of the crossing's installation.

Today, the crossing is far less impressive. MS-7 was moved a bit north, and its old alignment was renumbered to MS-332 in 1958. The railroad is still in service under the flag of the Grenada Railroad

Google Maps Image. Still no gates...

Thanks as always for reading!


  1. Why Oh WHY hasn't Lionel made one of these? I guess it wouldn't look so pleasing under the Christmas Tree, huh.

  2. They just did:


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