The Chinese Eastern Railway Album, published in 1905, displays a photo of guarded crossing on Chinese Eastern Railway a century ago. Harbin is one of the cities where the country’s first railway crossings were built. In 1903 when Chinese Eastern Railway was put into operation, the railway crossing came into being. At that time, guarded crossing facilities were quite simple, even without a crossing guard room.
According to historical records, Harbin's first crossing guard room was located in Beimalu area of Fujiadian (in the present Daowai District). The area was densely populated and full of merchants. There was a Russian style wooden room served as the crossing guard room standing by the railroad crossing. When the train approached, a bearded Russian crossing keeper would walk out of the room and lowered the railings on both sides of the rail and blow a small horn to warn people to keep away from the train.
At the early days after the founding of new China, busy crossings in Harbin were guarded by people from the track maintenance department. There was no crossing guard rooms in good shape then but only tents or rooms built of old sleepers. Later, they changed into brick rooms. Equipment at the crossing was very simple, only wooden railings painted black and white, with a short segment of rail at the end of the rail. The rise and fall of the rail were manually operated by the crossing keepers. Facilities for the crossings included signal flags, horns, crowbars, etc. There was no telephone in the room. At night, the crossing keepers had to carry a lamp to receive the train.
In 1960s, the number of vehicles increased with the development of urban transport. Crossing keepers and alarming devices were provided at most crossings in the city. When the train approached, the bell rings, and the crossing keeper went out of the room to receive the train. Additional obstruction signals were installed at busy crossings in downtown area. When danger is spotted, the crossing keeper immediately turned on the crossing signal and the red light was on. Some of the wooden railings were replaced by rail fences. When the train came and the fences were lowered down, the lights on the head of fences started shining, which were very dazzling at night.
In 1970s, in order to adapt to the development of urban transport, the railway departments enhanced investment in the construction of railway crossings. A number of crossing guard rooms were built in modern model to make it convenient for observation. Additional equipment including telephones, spotlights and loudspeakers were provided, and the environment was also better. More and more young people joined this group, and female crossing keepers also appeared for the first time. The female keepers, each wearing a hat and holding a signal flag to give directions to the train, looked like the valiant traffic policewoman.
With the speeding up of Chinese Railways, the railway department attached great importance to crossing safety. Since 1980, “level crossings replaced by grade separation” was fully implemented across the country Harbin, together with other major and medium sized cities along the railway lines, has witnessed the mushrooming of all kinds of different shapes of railway overpasses. Crossings, which guarded the transportation safety, have retired one after another and finally become a part of people's memory with the unique sound of rolling wheels and tinkling bells.