Why the Wyoming Rail is the Best Scenic Rail

The Wyoming Rail was designed by the Wyoming Department of Transportation to present the smallest possible horizontal obstruction, consistent with safety requirements.  The Department did this to prevent snow from piling up on bridges during Wyoming’s severe winters, but fortuitously it also solved the problem of how to let motorists see the scenery from bridges while providing excellent crash safety.

The Wyoming Rail meets all current safety standards.  It has passed current (Report 350) crash tests and has been accepted by the Federal Highway Department for general use on high speed highways. It meets the Load Factor Resistance Design specifications of the American Association of State Highway Transportation Organizations.

The Wyoming Rail is by far the best choice for a scenic rail for California. As Photos 1 – 3 on the following pages show, its aesthetics and visual transparency far exceed those of other alternative rail choices presented by Caltrans to the California Coastal Commission.

Variations of the Wyoming Rail can be used to provide excellent safety and motorist visibility in all situations in the Coastal Zone (as well as elsewhere in California).

·     Wyoming Rail as a single traffic barrier:  Most bridges on Highway 1 do not have pedestrian walkways.  On bridges without sidewalks, the Wyoming Rail should be used alone to provide both excellent vehicle safety and scenic visibility.

Bicyclists would ride safely on the shoulders, which are a minimum of four feet wide on new Caltrans bridges. (Most of Highway 1 does not now have any paved shoulder for bicyclists.) There is no national standard requiring that bridge railings on Highway 1 be designed to provide bicyclist protection.  The need to modify single railings to provide bicyclist protection should be considered on a case by case basis.  In rural areas, it would seem seldom to be justified.

·     Wyoming Rail as part of a two-rail system:  On bridges with pedestrian sidewalks, the Wyoming Rail should be used as part of a “two-rail system.”  A Wyoming rail would be placed on the inner, traffic side of the sidewalk as a traffic barrier, and a traditional spoke railing would be placed on the outside of the bridge. See Photos 3 –  6.

Bicyclists would ride safely on the shoulders, which are a minimum of four feet wide on new Caltrans bridges. There is no issue of special railing modifications in this instance, because if a bicyclist fell over the inner railing, he or she would land on the sidewalk. 

On very high-speed highways, it may be necessary for bicyclists to share the sidewalk with pedestrians.  In such cases, a picket-style outer rail of the required height would be used. 

·     Wyoming Rail modified to provide pedestrian and bicyclist safety: In a few instances, the Wyoming Rail might need to be modified to be used as a single rail to provide auto, pedestrian, and bicycle safety.  In such instances, thin metal cables should be used between the rails to make the openings acceptably small. This is the design approach used for a planned bicycle rail on the traffic side of the sidewalks of the Golden Gate Bridge.

Alternative Scenic Bridge Railings

Photo 1

Caltrans SW80: The “scenic” railing favored by Caltrans, apparently because it is primarily concrete and would have lower maintenance costs.  This is the railing proposed for the new Noyo Bridge.

It has a federal safety level of TL-2, a level accepted by the Federal Highway Department only for restricted use, where traffic speeds don’t exceed 45 miles per hour.


Caltrans 80SW "See-Through Rail"

              Photo 2

Caltrans Modified Rail: The supposed “Wyoming Rail” offered to the Coastal Commission as a possible choice.  This version pictured is designed to provide pedestrian and bicycle safety, as well as auto safety. 

It is mislabeling to term this “Caltrans Modified Rail” a “Wyoming Rail.”  The design differs radically from the unmodified Wyoming Rail (below).  The Caltrans Modified Rail has never been crash tested and has no designated safety level.


The Cal-transmogrified “Wyoming Rail”

Photo 3

The True Wyoming Rail: The clear best choice for California’s scenic railing.  On bridges without sidewalks, the Wyoming Rail can be used alone, giving motorists almost completely unob­structed views.

The Wyoming Rail is available in two versions: the TL-4 pictured here and a slightly lighter TL-3 version (see Photo 6).  Both have passed current Report 350 safety tests and have been accepted for general use on high-speed highways by the Federal Highway Administration.


Caltrans simulated view of a TL-4 True Wyoming Rail

Photo 4

Two-Rail System: The best way to provide motorist and pedestrian safety and scenic visibility. The inner rail protects pedestrians from errant vehicles and the outer rail keeps them  from falling off the bridge.

The Federal Highway Administration requires an inner rail on sidewalks when traffic speeds exceed 45 mph.








Two-Rail System on Santa Rosa Bridge:
CA Type 2 Inner Rail, Spoke Outer Rail

              Photo 5

Spoke Outer Rail: a traditional bridge railing. The vertical spokes are essentially invisible to passing motorists.

The spoke railing is architecturally light and airy and has a traditional feeling.  It is aesthetically pleasing, while providing excellent pedestrian safety and motorist visibility.



Spoke Outer Rail on Upper Lake Bridge

Photo 6

Wyoming Inner Rail: Combining an inner Wyoming Rail with an outer spoke rail would provide motorists with almost unimpeded views.

The Wyoming Rail pictured has been in use for over 20 years.  It has passed current crash tests and is accepted by the Federal Highway Administra­tion for general use on the Federal Highway System. The TL-4 version shown in Photo 3 differs only slightly from the TL-3 rail pictured.


Proposed Inner Rail for Two-Rail Systems:
A TL‑3 Wyoming Rail Outside Yellowstone Park

Vince Taylor                                                                                             December 6, 2000