FRA Promotes Highway-Rail Grade Croessing Safety and Prevention with Grant to Operation Lifesaver

WASHINGTON — Preventing and reducing collisions, fatalities and injuries arising from highway-rail grade crossing and railroad trespass incidents is the goal of a $1.03 million Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) grant to Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI), a not-for-profit railroad safety education organization.

Trespassing and highway-rail grade crossing deaths comprise approximately 95 percent of all rail-related fatalities in the United States each year. The grant funding will be used for public education and awareness programs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. As part of the grant agreement, OLI is required to receive 25 percent matching in-kind contributions from non-government sources for a total program effort of $1,366,500.

“Far too often, preventable tragedies occur because motorists and pedestrians ignore the dangers of grade crossings at railroad tracks,” said FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman. “Increased public knowledge will result in more people making the right safety decisions around the rails.”

Since 1995, the highway-rail grade crossing collision rate has declined from 6.92 to 3.84 per million train miles, reaching an all-time low in 2005. And, the number of deaths resulting from train-vehicle collisions has decreased by 38.5 percent, from 579 to 356, over the same period. Unfortunately, the number of fatalities resulting from trespassing on railroad property has remained fairly constant at approximately 500 per year.

The grant supplements the FRA’s wide-ranging highway-rail crossing safety and trespass prevention program that includes numerous engineering, enforcement and educational initiatives. It also supports the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Rail Safety Action Plan and the Secretary of Transportation’s Action Plan for Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety and Trespass Prevention, the blueprint for Federal efforts to combat these problems.

Recent actions taken by FRA include: a Safety Advisory stressing the railroad industry’s role in preventing grade crossing accidents; a rule requiring the sounding of the locomotive horn at all public grade crossings unless the crossing is sufficiently protected by warning devices and other safety measures; and a rule requiring reflective materials on locomotives and freight railcars to give motorists an additional visual warning of a train that is occupying a crossing in poor weather or lighting conditions.

FRA SUPPORTS TOLL-FREE PHONE NUMBERS: Meanwhile, toll-free emergency telephone numbers posted at highway-rail grade crossings used to report problems with warning equipment or other emergencies are effective in enhancing motorist and rail passenger safety and should be expanded to include more crossings, Boardman said.

A new FRA report finds that malfunctioning warning lights and gates at grade crossings have been repaired more quickly by railroads thanks to people using the telephone number, Boardman said. Also, freight and passenger trains have been slowed or stopped to prevent collisions with stalled vehicles, trespassers, and other obstructions on the tracks, he said.

Over 75 percent of grade crossings with flashing lights and gates, and over 60 percent of all public grade crossings, have such an emergency number posted, according to Boardman.

“Many grade crossing accidents can be prevented and lives saved when the public knows where to call to report a problem,” Boardman stated. “More grade crossings need to have emergency numbers posted so more potential tragedies can be avoided.”

The findings support U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Norman Y. Mineta’s Highway-Rail Crossing Safety and Trespass Prevention Action Plan, which calls for universal implementation of the toll-free emergency notification system at all public grade crossings.

The FRA also recommends emergency numbers be posted at private grade crossings with significant public use such as to access shopping centers, industrial parks and residential developments.

In addition, the FRA will provide the necessary operating software and work to identify possible start-up funding to encourage smaller freight railroads to join together and establish combined toll-free emergency call-in systems to cover grade crossings not part of any existing program.

— Special to The Cross-Tie

Published in the July 2006 edition of The Cross-Tie.