The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), an agency in the United States Department of Transportation (USDOT), recently adopted a final rule mandating the development and implementation of highway-rail grade crossing action plans to improve public safety in 40 states and the District of Columbia (FRA Publishes Final Rule for State Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Action Plans). The rule also compels the remaining 10 states, which previously implemented grade crossing action plans under the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA), to update their action plans and submit reports reflecting those updates to the FRA.
“Grade crossing accidents and incidents are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in the United States, but nearly every one of them is preventable,” FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory said. “The action plans give states a tool to engage with federal and local partners, railroads, and rail safety advocates to identify high risk crossings and develop strategies to save lives.”
The rule is supported by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). “Safety is imperative to FHWA, especially where roads and rails meet,” FHWA Administrator Nicole R. Nason said. “These action plans can help states make highway-rail grade crossings safer for the traveling public.”
The FRA’s final rule is a response to the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, which requires states to develop, implement, or update grade crossing action plans. Each state’s plan must identify railroad crossings that:
- have had at least one accident or incident in the previous three years,
- have had multiple accidents or incidents in the previous five years, or
- are determined to be at high-risk for accidents or incidents.
Each action plan must lay out detailed strategies making railroad crossings safer, including closing particularly dangerous crossings or rebuilding roadways over or under railways.
In 2010, the RSIA required 10 states with the most highway-rail grade crossing accidents (Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas) to develop action plans for approval by the FRA. Under the FAST Act, each of those states must now submit updated plans to the FRA describing their ongoing progress in lowering crossing safety risks.
Within 14 months after the publication of this final rule, all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with technical assistance provided by the FRA, must submit their individual highway-rail grade crossing action plans. The FHWA’s Railway-Highway Crossing (Section 130) Program also provides federal funds to help states create their action plans.
Other than cost, there is nothing stopping the railroad industry from reducing crossing accidents to near zero. Unfortunately, as long as the railroad industry continues to care more about profits than public safety, the federal government will be forced to keep issuing regulations making highway-rail grade crossings safer.
If you or a loved one have been injured or killed in a railroad crossing collision, it is crucial that you hire an experienced personal injury attorney. Please call DBJ today at 1-800-875-5972 for a free consultation.