Federal agency to require states to update grade crossing plans, improve safety

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WASHINGTON – U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine L. Chao today announced significant plans to advance highway-rail grade crossing safety this week. The announcement comes as the Federal Railroad Administration hosted a grade-crossing safety summit, with remarks from FRA Administrator Ron Batory, Acting Department of Transportation Deputy Secretary Steve Bradbury, and Federal Highway Administration Deputy Administrator Mala Parker.

“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.

Underscoring the Department’s commitment to addressing the challenge of rail crossing safety, Secretary Chao announced the publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking 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.

FRA will review states’ action plans for sufficiency and, upon approval, FRA will publish the plans on the Internet. 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 has distributed more than $900 million in formula funds to States for grade crossing improvements through the Section 130 program. Additionally, the Administration has awarded $324 million 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.

“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.”

Secretary Chao also announced that the Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook has been updated and revamped for the first time in over ten 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 nation’s 130,000 public rail and road junctures.

“This handbook is one more tool in the toolbox to help enhance safety at highway-rail grade crossings,” said Federal Highway Administrator Nicole R. Nason. “It is part of our ongoing efforts, in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration and state and local practitioners, to help ensure rail and road users get to their destination safely.”

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 this, the Department 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 in the past 10 years.

Comments on the proposed rule on State Action Plans are due to FRA by January 6, 2020. For further information and instructions on how to comment on the proposed rulemaking, see the NPRM as published in the Federal Register online

The Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook, Third Edition is a joint publication of FHWA and FRA and can be downloaded free of charge online

— From a Federal Railroad Administration news release. Nov. 19, 2019.

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