The Quarter-million Grade Crossings Safety Study Question: How Safe Are Our Railroads? Study Meets Implementation and Community Service.

Grade Crossing with ENS Sign. Hinsdale, Illinois. Divi Logan.

The FRA has been studying grade crossings for years. What is their progress, and what are they doing to spread the word across America about safety around railroads?

By Divi Logan. Photographer and Writer.

ENS Sign for Union Pacific Railroad. UP-West Line. Western Suburbs of Chicago.

1. The FRA: Background to Crossing Ground

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) was created by the Department of Transportation Act of 1966. It is one of ten agencies within the U.S. Department of Transportation concerned with intermodal transportation.

Mission

The Federal Railroad Administration’s mission is to enable the safe, reliable, and efficient movement of people and goods for a strong America, now and in the future.

Vision: RAIL – Moving America Forward

Railroad Safety

FRA’s Office of Railroad Safety promotes and regulates safety throughout the Nation’s railroad industry.  The office executes its regulatory and inspection responsibilities through a diverse staff of railroad safety experts.  The staff includes nearly 400 Federal safety inspectors who specialize in one of six technical disciplines focusing on compliance and enforcement in:

  • Grade Crossings
  • Hazardous Materials
  • Motive Power and Equipment
  • Operating Practices
  • Signal and Train Control
  • Track

Other functions include:

  • Railroad safety and stakeholder training (including State safety inspectors)
  • Accident and employee fatality investigations and reporting
  • Partnerships between labor, management, and the agency that address systemic initiatives
  • Development and implementation of safety rules and standards

Railroad Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention Initiative

While the railroad industry is significantly safer than it has ever been, unfortunately, still too many people lose their lives in railroad crossing and trespassing incidents. In stark terms, 2017 had approximately 2,100 railroad crossing incidents and 270 deaths. There were also approximately 520 trespasser fatalities at railroad tracks in 2017. Sadly, nearly all of these incidents are preventable.

As part of FRA’s mission to improve safety, we are working to reduce railroad crossing and trespasser incidents through the 3 E framework: EducationEngineering, and Enforcement as well as through extensive analysis of rail safety Data and Statistics.

Highway-rail grade crossings are intersections where highways cross railroad tracks at-grade. Approximately 212,000 highway-rail grade crossings exist on approximately 140,000 miles of track that make up the United States’ railroad system. Grade crossings are also called level crossings in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.

Trespassing along railroad rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Nationally, more than 400 trespass fatalities occur each year. Railroad crossing incidents are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Together, trespassing and railroad crossing incidents account for 94% of all rail-related deaths and injuries, and almost all are preventable. To learn more about railroad safety efforts at highway-rail grade crossings, visit the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety and Trespass Prevention page.

FRA conducts grade crossing and trespassing research to improve railroad safety and reduce accidents and incidents at grade crossings. This goal is advanced through research, development, and testing of safety technologies, and by providing trespassing countermeasures and best practices to communities and industry. FRA organizes its research into four areas: Grade Crossing Technology, Grade Crossing Pedestrian Safety, Grade Crossing Modeling and Simulation, and Grade Crossing and Trespass Outreach/Education.   

RESOURCES

  1. U. S. Department of Transportation. Federal Railroad Administration. About FRA. Railroad Safety. https://railroads.dot.gov/about-fra/about-fra. 28 October 2020.
  2. U. S. Department of Transportation. Federal Railroad Administration. Railroad Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention Initiative. https://railroads.dot.gov/highway-rail-crossing-and-trespasser-programs/railroad-crossing-safety/railroad-crossing-safety
  3. Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Trespassing Research