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it seems the more reliable conventional approach is the reflective IR pair embedded between ties. the problem with reflective sensors is room lighting. sunlight and incandescent lights radiate IR and can interfere. florescent and LEDs do not.

at least onr product i've seen has 2 pairs on either side of the crossing, the outer pair used to trigger sound and lights and the inner pair used to disable the sensor.

Azatrax actually toggles the emitters on/off to minimize false detections by trying to recognize that the receiver is active due to the emitter.
 

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another, non optical approach maybe to use a block detector to activate the signal. in addition to the detector, something that flashes lights, closes gates and/or generates bells is needed
 

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tv remotes use a signal modulated at a specific frequency which receivers are tuned for and use automatic gain control to distinguish the modulated signal from background
 
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