DOT developing action plan to reduce motor vehicle-train collisions

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Several safety initiatives designed to reduce collisions between motor vehicles and trains will be completed before the end of 2008 as part of the ongoing Department of Transportation Highway-Rail Crossing Safety and Trespass Prevention Action Plan, DOT Secretary Mary Peters announced Thursday, June 12.

“Our efforts to improve safety where the rails meet the road are working,” Peters said, noting that from 2004 to 2007, grade crossing accidents and fatalities declined 10.8 percent and 9.1 percent, respectively. However, there were still 2,746 collisions and 338 deaths at America’s nearly 227,000 grade crossings last year. “More needs to be done to make crossings safer,” she said.

The Federal Railroad Administration on Thursday, June 12, released the first-ever comprehensive report detailing the challenges associated with the nearly 87,000 private roadways that cross over railroad tracks and which are not subject to the same federal safety standards as public crossings. The report describes and proposes possible courses of action to improve safety at private crossings through development of a national policy or issuance of federal regulations, Peters said.

In the coming months, FRA also intends to issue a multiyear research and development plan that includes several projects specifically addressing grade crossing safety issues, Peters said. It will support research into innovative and low-cost technologies to modernize existing warning devices, improve detection of oncoming trains by motor vehicle drivers, and apply Intelligent Transportation System solutions, among several other research efforts.

And, by the end of the year, FRA will issue a revised guidebook to assist states and communities in closing or consolidating unneeded or little-used public grade crossings along a rail corridor while improving crossing safety at those that remain open. Stating that “the safest crossing is the one that doesn’t exist,” Peters said more than 18,000 crossings have been closed since 2004.

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“Grade crossing safety is a shared responsibility, and to achieve further improvements, everyone needs to do their part,” said FRA Administrator Joseph H. Boardman, stressing the need for motorists, railroads and federal, state, and local governments and others to act individually and work together.

Peters said the Action Plan, originally issued in June 2004, involves the work of several DOT agencies and has completed numerous projects and activities during the past four years, including regulations, research, technology development, technical assistance and educational efforts.