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Top Priority for Federal Railroad Administration: Reducing Crossing Crashes

Vehicle crashes at grade crossings have emerged as a top priority for Sarah Feinberg, the new Federal Railroad Administrator. Fatalities at rail crossings in 2014 increased by 15 percent from 2013.
March 8, 2016, 11am PST | Irvin Dawid
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"In 2014, there were 267 fatalities and 832 injuries caused by grade crossing accidents*, according to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics," writes Jeff Stagl, Managing Editor of Progressive Railroading. In 2013, there were 231 fatalities.

Railroad Crossing in Ybor.jpg

Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

In a letter to state departments of transportation (DOTs), Federal Railroad Administrator Sarah Feinberg wrote:

In my first year as Federal Railroad Administrator and Acting Administrator, few issues have been as important to me as improving safety at railroad crossings...

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.

The letter advised the DOTs "to verify that crossing warning systems interconnected to traffic lights are functioning properly to avoid collisions," writes Stagl. "The agency also called on the states to add event recorders to traffic lights connected to about 5,000 crossings to provide inspectors with information that can be used to improve safety."

"The primary purpose of an interconnection interface between the highway and railroad controllers at a (Highway Railroad Intersection) is to preempt highway traffic signal operation in order to clear traffic from the crossing as a train approaches," according to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

"[Feinberg is] counting on several new undertakings — such as partnerships with technology companies and a recently formed crossing safety task force — to enhance accident-prevention efforts," adds Stagl. "Adding railroad crossing data to smartphone mapping applications just makes sense  it means supplying drivers and passengers with additional cues that they are approaching a crossing," writes Feinberg in Fast Lane about the FRA partnership with Google.

Finally, some good news from Minnesota Public Radio about grade crossing crashes. "Four people died in vehicle-train collisions at Minnesota railroad crossings last year, the second lowest number of deaths since 1970, state transportation officials said Friday."

Gov. Mark Dayton [DFL] made rail crossing safety a priority last year. He's called on the railroads to pay more of the cost of safety improvements along the congested tracks used by oil trains.

Watch for national 2015 crash data to be released this month by the FRA. 

*Correspondent's note to readers: While it is our policy to avoid the use of the term "accidents," except when it refers to an act of nature, you can expect to see word when it is part of a quote or excerpt.

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Published on Monday, February 29, 2016 in Progressive Railroading
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