At a summit hosted by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), US Secretary of Transportation, Elaine L Chao announced significant plans to advance highway-rail grade crossing safety across the country.
Underscoring the US Department of Transportation’s (USDOT) commitment to addressing the challenge of rail crossing safety, Chao announced the publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to improve safety at public highway-rail grade crossings nationwide. The proposed rule would require all states and the District of Columbia to develop and implement a new or updated highway-rail grade crossing action plan no later than one year after the effective date of the final rule. The FRA will review states’ action plans for sufficiency, and, upon approval, the agency will publish the plans. These action plans will enable states to prioritize infrastructure and equipment investments at railway crossings using a variety of resources, including Federal formula funds and grants.
Since 2017, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has distributed more than US$900m in formula funds to states for grade crossing improvements through the Section 130 program. Additionally, the Administration has awarded US$324m in discretionary grant funds to 43 projects that include grade crossing improvements and trespass prevention elements, with more than 500 grade crossings in 26 states to be improved as a result of these investments. Chao also announced that the Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook has been updated and revamped for the first time in over 10 years. This important resource for constructing and maintaining safer highway-rail grade crossings offers guidance for best practices and new standards to improve safety at the USA’s 130,000 public rail and road junctures.
A joint publication of the FHWA and FRA, the third edition of the Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook provides important information on highway-rail crossings and characteristics of the crossing environment and users, and was developed in conjunction with stakeholders and safety advocates. The guidance focuses on the physical and operational improvements that can be made at highway-rail grade crossings to enhance the safety and operation of both highway and rail traffic over crossing intersections. In addition to these efforts, the USDOT this year conducted the 4th annual multi-million-dollar targeted railroad crossing safety campaign called, ‘Stop. Trains Can’t.’ to increase public awareness of railroad crossings and to reduce injuries and death. The campaign focused on cities that have the highest vehicle/train incidents over the past 10 years.
Announcing the new safety initiative, Chao said, “The Department is committed to supporting infrastructure improvements, new communications tools, and working to change driver behaviour so that highway-rail grade crossings are safe environments for all transportation users.”
FRA administrator, Ronald L Batory, said, “Grade crossing collisions are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in America, but nearly every one of them is preventable. 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.”