State departments of transportation across the U.S. are being called on to check their railroad crossing warning systems because of the increased trends of fatalities. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced today they urge states verify that these systems, intersected to traffic lights, are functioning properly.
There are close to 200,000 railroad crossings, with almost 5,000 railroad crossings interconnected to traffic lights, across the country. In 2014, 267 people were killed in accidents involving trains and vehicles. Incidents at rail crossings are the second leading cause of death and injury on or near railroad tracks.
“Reducing fatalities at railroad crossings is an achievable goal,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “But we can only achieve it if federal, state and local governments work together with railroads to verify that these crossings connected to traffic lights work properly.”
In 2015, FRA launched a widespread campaign to reverse the recent rise in railroad crossing fatalities. They are working with Google and other tech companies to use FRA data to pinpoint crossings to add visual and audio alerts to map applications.
“I have made improving railroad crossing safety a top priority of mine because I know that we can and must do better,” FRA Administrator Sarah E. Feinberg wrote in a letter to the heads of state departments of transportation across the country. “But the Federal Railroad Administration cannot solve this problem on its own. Unless we work closely with state and local officials, law enforcement, railroads and transportation officials, and other stakeholders, we will not have the impact we are striving for and we will not save as many lives. But working together, I know we can do more to prevent these incidents.”
“Simply put: We strongly recommend that state and local transportation officials, together with railroad officials, visit crossings in their region and monitor and test crossing signals and adjacent traffic signals to ensure that the signals are synced and operating properly,” Feinberg wrote.
During those joint inspections, traffic experts and railroads should verify that the traffic lights and crossing lights are properly sequenced and enough time is provided for traffic to clear from a nearby intersection before a train enters a crossing.
“I am reminded of the critical importance of doing everything we can to avoid these tragic incidents as I look back on the Metro-North commuter train crash in Valhalla, NY that killed 6 people and injured 15 in February 2015, and the more recent incidents in Louisiana and Oregon that killed a total of nine more,” Feinberg penned.
They also announced today the award of a $1.1 million grant to the State of Louisiana to increase safety at railroad crossings along six miles of Kansas City Southern tracks from North Street to Louise Street in Baton Rouge. The project is one of nine rail projects in eight states selected to receive nearly $10 million to upgrade and increase the safety of railroad crossings along energy routes under the Railroad Safety Grants for the Safe Transportation of Energy Products (STEP) by Rail Program. FRA received 34 eligible applications requesting five times the $10 million available for the program, or $50.8 million.
“These grants will reduce accidents and fatalities at railroad crossings and help modernize our nation’s rail system,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx. “Through a combination of these grants, education and enforcement, we can – and will – achieve our goal of preventing accidents and deaths at railroad crossings.”
In 2015, the Department of Transportation (DOT) released a stricter rule of transporting crude oil by rail. The rule requires stronger tank cars and a new brake system that activates simultaneously on all tank cars, reduces the distance and time needed for a train to stop, and keeps more tank cars on the track if a train does derail. DOT has also required that railroads transporting crude oil notify State Emergency Response Commissions of the movement of crude oil through individual states.