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American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater


Federal Railroad Administration
April 9, 1999

Friday, April 9, 1999
Contact: Pamela Barry
Telephone: 202-493-6024
Pager: 1-800-800-9724
FRA 4-99

RAYMOND, Miss.—U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater with Federal Railroad Administrator Jolene Molitoris, U.S. Rep. Ronnie Shows and U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson today discussed highway-rail grade crossing safety at a community roundtable meeting in Raymond, Miss.

"Record levels of investment are bringing about improved rail safety, demonstrating President Clinton’s leadership and emphasis on safety as the highest transportation priority," Secretary Slater said. "We need to do more by continuing to work with state and local officials to increase state and local investment and enforcement on grade crossings."

In fiscal 1999, the U.S. Department of Transportation provided $154.8 million to states to be used exclusively for highway-rail crossing improvements or elimination. An additional $314.8 million of funding for hazard elimination also may be used for eliminating or improving grade crossings. As part of TEA-21, Mississippi received $2.2 million in fiscal 1999 for highway-rail crossing improvements. In addition, $4.1 million in discretionary funds are available to eliminate grade crossing hazards.

There are more than 259,000 existing highway-rail grade crossings in the United States. States and localities, working with DOT, have closed more than 33,000 such grade crossings since 1991.

"Five years ago we launched a multi-faceted initiative to save lives at highway-rail grade crossings and have achieved dramatic results—fewer highway-rail crossing collisions, fewer fatalities and fewer injuries," Molitoris said.

She said that there have been 30 percent fewer highway-rail crossing collisions since 1993, 33 percent fewer highway-rail crossing fatalities and 31 percent fewer highway-rail crossing injuries.

"Last year in Mississippi, 23 people were killed and 63 seriously injured in rail grade crossing collisions. Although good work is being done and we are beginning to see some positive safety results, these avoidable tragedies still occur, as we saw just a few weeks ago in Illinois. So we must continue to address this issue and find ways through safety upgrading, through education and public awareness campaigns, and through creative and substantive approaches to make railroad crossings safe. This discussion here today is a good way to start," said Congressman Shows.

"During the Delta leg of Secretary Slater’s tour, he was able to see many of Mississippi’s transportation needs firsthand. If any new projects result from this visit, that will improve our state’s infrastructure, we must make sure that the waterways, roads and rails we build are safe for all Mississippians," said Congressman Thompson.

DOT is currently deploying and testing a series of innovative approaches to grade crossing hazard elimination. In Connecticut, four quadrant gates block all lanes of the highway at the School Street crossing in Mystic, completely restricting access to the crossing. If the crossing is blocked or obstructed, the locomotive engineer is notified through the cab signal system which gives instructions on how to proceed.

In North Carolina, a sealed corridor initiative incorporates non-mountable curbs, four quadrant gates and in some locations, a combination of the two. The sealed corridor is a project to improve the safety of 131 crossings in a 92-mile Charlotte-to-Greensboro segment of North Carolina’s high-speed rail corridor.

In Illinois, arrester nets are deployed in three separate locations. The vehicle arrester barrier (VAB), which safely prevents intrusion by motor vehicles onto the highway-rail crossing, is similar to the nets used on aircraft carriers to stop planes. The nets are deployed by track circuits activated by trains as they approach grade crossings.

Photo-enforcement technology in California automatically takes pictures of license plates and drivers who violate warning devices at grade crossings. This information is used to issue fines.

DOT supports projects in Minnesota and Illinois to test the effect of in-vehicle warning systems to improve rail crossing safety. With DOT support, San Antonio, Texas, is looking at the feasibility of incorporating notices on delays at railroad crossings into information distributed to travelers. DOT is also sponsoring a test of systems to warn locomotive engineers if an obstacle, such as a stalled vehicle, is blocking a crossing, warnings that automatically could bring the train to a complete stop, if necessary.

DOT works with Operation Lifesaver, Inc., a non-profit safety organization, in educating the public about grade crossing hazards and the dangers of trespassing. Together, they work aggressively with the trucking industry and professional school bus operators to raise awareness of danger at grade crossings.

The DOT created the PC Accident Prediction system to help track highway-rail grade crossings incidents. This information provides data and tools to states and localities to help them identify locations where highway-rail grade crossings should be closed or consolidated, or where safety warning devices should be upgraded. It also helps states identify where grade crossing safety initiatives might be most effective.

DOT has proposed two new rules for commercial vehicle operators to ensure they drive with extreme caution at rail crossings. Under these proposals, truck or bus drivers convicted of violating laws or regulations concerning railroad-highway grade crossings would be disqualified from driving for 60 days for a first offense and 120 days for a second offense. Commercial drivers also would be prohibited from driving onto a rail crossing unless there is sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping.

DOT has a commercial vehicle safety partnership program which informs judges, prosecutors and legislators in the states about their important roles in identifying problem truck and bus drivers and preventing them from causing crashes.

DOT field staff, including members of the Federal Railroad Administration and Federal Highway Administration, deal with highway-rail crossing safety across the country, working with states, local governments, and railroads on crossing safety programs. Additional staff will be hired this year. In addition, DOT works with representatives from the law enforcement community to generate increased enforcement activities at the state and local level.


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