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New federal rule: All states must develop grade crossing safety plans

States will have 14 months to act

All 50 states must now develop action plans for highway-rail grade crossings. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

Every state plus the District of Columbia must now develop and implement action plans on how they can help make highway-rail grade crossings safer, according to new federal regulation.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Tuesday published a final rule that required 40 states and Washington to develop and implement highway-rail grade crossing action plans to help improve public safety. An additional 10 states that had already submitted plans to FRA must update their plans and report on how they’ve acted on report recommendations.

The rule follows discussion by FRA and members of Congress about how to address grade crossing safety, especially as trains on some routes are becoming longer and residents and emergency service providers must find alternate routes or wait patiently for trains to go by.

FRA first proposed this rule over a year ago.

“Grade crossing accidents and incidents are the second-leading cause of rail-related deaths in the United States, but nearly every one of them is preventable,” said FRA Administrator Ron Batory. “The action plans give states a tool to engage with federal and local partners, railroads and rail safety advocates to identify high-risk crossings and develop strategies to save lives.”

The Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act had required government regulators to develop and implement or update action plans on grade crossings. The report must list problematic crossings, including  high-risk crossings and those that have had at least one incident or accident in the past three years or multiple incidents in the past five years. In addition to the list, the action plans must describe specific measures to improve safety at each crossing, such as crossing closures or realigning roads over or under rail tracks. 

States that already submit plans to FRA are Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas. These states had the most highway-rail grade crossing collisions on average between 2006 and 2008.

The states must submit their plans within the next 14 months, and FRA said it would provide technical assistance. 

The rule is available here.

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.