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November 13, 2019 5:30 PM, EST

FRA Proposal Calls for State Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Plans

A railroad in AlaskaA railroad in Alaska, which is one of the 40 states that would need to develop a highway-rail grade crossing action plan under the proposed rule. (Getty Images)

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The Federal Railroad Administration has issued a proposed rule that would require states to develop highway-rail grade crossing action plans — or update the action plans they have.

A highway-rail grade crossing is where a roadway intersects with railroad tracks at the same level or grade. According to the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, there are more than 250,000 such crossings. FRA reports that 94% of all rail-related fatalities and injuries occur at railroad crossings or due to trespassing. More than 400 rail-related fatalities due to trespassing occur each year.

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FRA’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking was published in the Federal Register on Nov. 7. Specifically, the proposed rule would require 40 states and the District of Columbia to develop highway-rail grade crossing action plans. The 10 states that previously made action plans would have to update them and report steps they have taken to implement those plans.

“The purpose of the NPRM is to reduce accidents at highway-rail grade crossings nationwide,” the Federal Register document states.

The proposal stems from the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act of 2015, which mandated FRA establish a rule requiring states to create highway-rail grade crossing action plans.

An earlier bill, the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, had required 10 states to make these plans. This act directed the transportation secretary to identify the 10 states with the most highway-rail grade crossing collisions over the previous three years and require those states to develop action plans that would identify safety improvements.

Using agency data on crossing incidents to form its determination, FRA required Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio and Texas to create action plans in 2010.

Railroad crossing in Kansas

A truck waits as guards go down at a Kansas railroad crossing. FRA reports that 94% of all rail-related fatalities and injuries occur at railroad crossings or due to trespassing. (Kansas Department of Transportation)

According to the Federal Register document, the action plans must focus on crossings that have experienced multiple incidents and present strategies for improving safety. If a state classifies a crossing as “high risk for accidents or incidents,” the state also should explain the criteria used for that classification. The NPRM requires each state to designate an official to manage implementation of the action plan.

“FRA encourages states to consider crossing closures and grade separations as potential strategies for improving grade crossing safety,” the document states.

If a state submits an action plan FRA deems incomplete or deficient, the FAST Act requires the agency to notify the state of the areas in which the plan is lacking. The state has 60 days to correct the deficiencies noted by FRA. If the state misses that deadline, the FAST Act requires FRA to post a notification on an “official internet website” that the state has an incomplete action plan.

FRA representatives are available to states as they develop and update their action plans. According to the Federal Register notice, the agency will make highway-rail grade crossing incident data available to states upon their request.

FRA will accept public comment on the NPRM through Jan. 6. The agency is soliciting comments on the proposed time frames, including the 60-day window for FRA to review each state action plan and the 60-day window for states to correct deficient action plans. According to the document, FRA is concerned the 60-day review period may not be sufficient for the agency in the event that most states submit their action plans at about the same time.

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