FRA Starts ‘National Discussion’ on Improving Safety at Private Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will hold a series of public meetings across the country beginning in August to start a national discussion on the challenging issue of improving safety at the nation’s largely unregulated private highway-rail grade crossings, FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman announced.

"The lack of a common safety approach at private crossings unnecessarily puts certain motorists at risk," Boardman said. "We need to learn all we can about private crossings in order to consider possible methods of reducing collisions and fatalities in the future."

Establishing responsibility for safety at private crossings is one of the primary goals of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Trespass Prevention Action Plan issued in 2004, Boardman said. Increased focus on private crossings will compliment FRA’s ongoing comprehensive program to improve safety at public crossings.

Private crossings are owned by private property owners primarily to allow roadway access over railroad tracks to residential, commercial, or agricultural areas not meant for general public use, Boardman explained. Each year, about 400 accidents, and between 30 and 40 fatalities, occur at the over 94,000 private crossings used by both freight and passenger trains, he stated.

The FRA is seeking comments on topics such as determining when a private crossing has a public purpose and whether the State or Federal government should assume a greater role in setting safety standards. The first public meeting will be held in Fort Snelling, Minnesota with others tentatively planned for North Carolina, California, and Louisiana later this year.

Boardman made the announcement as he joined law enforcement officials on a special train in Cleveland, Ohio, organized by Operation Lifesaver to educate police officers about the seriousness of grade crossing and trespass violations. He said increased police activity will encourage motorists and pedestrians "to make the right decision to play it safe and not illegally drive around lowered crossing gates or use the tracks as a dangerous short cut."

Under the Action Plan, the FRA also supports closing unneeded grade crossings, is using video of actual grade crossing collisions to identify common causes, and is performing a trespasser demographic study to develop more effective prevention programs.