Grade separation

Grade separation

thumb|right|200px|An_example_of_a_four-level_stack_interchange_in_the_Netherlands.] 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 all alike; instead, it can consist of a mixture of roads, railways, and canals. 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" [ [$fn=altmain-nf.htm$3.0#JD_71.85 City of Eureka Municipal Code 71.85 (California, USA)] or as an "interchange" – in contrast with an "intersection" or an "at-grade", which are not grade-separated.


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) 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 very 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".


"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.


These junctions connect two roads:
*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

These junctions connect two roads, but only one is fully grade-separated :
*Diamond interchange
*Parclo interchange
*Single-point urban interchange
*Roundabout interchange

These junctions connect three or more roads:
*Various incarnations of Spaghetti Junction

These junctions terminate one road into another:
*Trumpet interchange
*Directional-T interchange


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 [ [,-0.144&t=k&z=16 Google Maps ] ] 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.

Advantages and disadvantages

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.

However, grade-separated junctions are large and costly. 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 NIMBY groups for these reasons. The United States suffered an extended period of anti-grade separation protests known as the freeway and expressway revolts.

Grade separated intersections are very expensive, time consuming to construct, potentially use up to three times more space (compared with at grade intersections), and require significant engineering effort compared to provision of an at-grade intersection.

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.


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