I have several different crossing signals. Two include crossing gates. I typically use insulated track sections but have used the "pressure switch" contacts. You are right that the pressure switches are finicky. They are affected by the weight of the car passing over it. A locomotive will activate the switch then the hollow boxcar following will not be heavy enough and the gate will start to rise only to drop down when the next heavier car arrives. Insulated tracks eliminate that problem. I picked up the crossing gate with lights on e-bay only to find that the lights don't flash! They both stay lit while the gate is down. I thought about adding the flashing circuit from the Highway Flasher to get the light to flash, but that's a project for another day.
You can buy insulated track or build your own. It's pretty easy with tubular track. I can provide some info if you're interested.