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Rail agency mulls requiring rail crossing safety plans from all states

A truck and a Union Pacific train meet at an intersection. Image: Jim Allen/FreightWaves

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is considering whether to require all 50 states plus the District of Columbia to develop and implement action plans on highway-rail grade crossings. Only 10 states are now mandated to do so.

The federal agency is taking comments on the proposed rulemaking through Jan. 6, 2020.

The purpose of the action plans would be to ensure safety for all parties at highway-rail grade crossings. Should the rule be finalized, all states plus the District would need to develop and implement a new or updated action plan addressing safety at public highway-rail grade crossings within a year.

“Grade crossing collisions are the second-leading cause of rail-related deaths in America, but nearly every one of them is preventable,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory.  “The action plans provide 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.”

These plans will aid states in prioritizing infrastructure and equipment investments at railway crossings, including helping states know how much public funding and grants they might need from federal sources. The Federal Highway Administration has given more than $900 million in formula funds to states for grade crossing improvements since 2017. An additional $324 million in discretionary grant funds to 43 projects related to grade crossing improvements and trespassing prevention has been awarded from federal sources.

The FRA will be responsible for ensuring the action plans are sufficient, and the agency will publish the plans on the Internet.

The 10 states already required to submit plans are Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas. The FRA had previously determined that these states had higher rates of grade crossing accidents or incidents.

The proposed rule is part of a broader push by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) to address safety at highway-rail grade crossings. The DOT hosted a grade-crossing safety summit this week, and the department updated the Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook for the first time in over 10 years. The third edition of the handbook gives guidance on best practices and the new standards for conducting physical and operational improvements. 

The DOT estimates highway and rail traffic meet at 130,000 intersections in the U.S.

“The department is committed to supporting infrastructure improvements, new communications tools, and working to change driver behavior so that highway-rail grade crossings are safe environments for all transportation users,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine L. Chao.

The heightened activity also comes as state and congressional lawmakers are grappling with comments from constituents that longer trains or stalled trains at some grade crossings are lengthening commuter wait times and causing frustration locally.

One Comment

  1. Noble1

    GOOD ON YOU FRA !!! Now that’s a great initiative !

    There was a dramatic story implicating CN in unsafe rail crossings that claimed a life in the province of New Brunswick Canada .
    Hold on ,I’ll see if I can find it , just a sec,

    Ok found it . The article is titled :

    CN Rail and others named in lawsuit over fatal wheelchair accident at New Brunswick rail crossing settle with parents

    An unfortunate “preventable” tragedy indeed .

    In my humble opinion …………

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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.