Monday, April 04, 2016

Safety at rail crossings remains a concern, especially in rural areas; only 1/3 have lights

Only about one-third of the nation's 128,000 public railroad crossings have flashing lights, Judi Hasson reports for Stateline. The problem is especially bad in rural areas, where some crossings don't even have arms and drivers are pretty much on their own to decide if it's safe to cross. While railroad crossing deaths are down—last year, 244 people were killed at railroad crossings compared to a high of 1,115 in 1976, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA)—safety remains a concern. (Associated Press photo: An SUV was struck by a Metro-North Railroad train in Valhalla, N.Y.)

In February, FRA "handed out nearly $10 million to eight states (Arkansas, California, Illinois, Louisiana, Minnesota, North Dakota, Washington and Wisconsin) so they could install gates, lights and other safeguards at railroad crossings along energy transportation routes," Hasson writes. "The agency acknowledged, however, that more money is needed: It noted that it received applications requesting five times that amount."

"There is no single cause of such accidents, and there is no single way to prevent them. There are, however, steps states can take to minimize the risks," Hasson reports. Sarah Feinberg, who heads FRA, "recently urged state transportation chiefs to accompany railroad inspectors during their required monthly checks of lights and gates at railroad crossings. A top priority, Feinberg said, should be to verify that the traffic lights and crossing lights are properly sequenced, and that there is enough time for traffic to clear a nearby intersection before a train enters a crossing." About 5,000 crossings are linked to traffic signals.

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