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U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater: Reflective Material on Freight Train Cars Would Improve Safety at Highway-Rail Crossings

American Government Special Collections Reference Desk

American Government Topics:  Rodney E. Slater

U.S. Transportation Secretary Slater: Reflective Material on Freight Train Cars Would Improve Safety at Highway-Rail Crossings

Federal Railroad Administration
July 15, 1999

Thursday, July 15, 1999
Contact: Pamela Barry
Telephone: 202-493-6024
FRA 16-99

U.S. Transportation Secretary Rodney E. Slater today announced the release of a Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) study which concludes that enhancing the visibility of freight train cars with reflective material could help prevent collisions involving highway vehicles.

"This study of highway-rail crashes continues our effort to improve safety, which is President Clinton’s highest transportation priority," Secretary Slater said.

According to FRA Administrator Jolene M. Molitoris, the study also determined that the new low-cost retro-reflective material can withstand harsh operating environments for up to 10 years with periodic cleaning. The study provides significant information, including cost estimates and information on the performance of equipped fleets in actual service environments.

Molitoris said that the FRA will be gathering additional data and conducting an economic analysis to determine whether initiating proposed regulatory or other action may be appropriate. In 1998 there were 754 collisions in which highway users struck rail equipment; 49 percent of these occurred during hours of dawn, dusk or at night.

"One of the most challenging problems facing the railroad industry is collisions between trains and vehicles at grade crossings," Molitoris said. "Improving motorists' recognition of trains at crossings could go a long way toward reducing the number of highway-rail grade crossing accidents, injuries and fatalities."

To review this matter further, the FRA on July 28, 1999, will convene a workshop in Washington, D.C., to gather information on the potential cost effectiveness of equipping freight train cars with retro-reflective material. Congress in 1994 required the U.S. Department of Transportation to conduct a review of department rules with respect to railroad car visibility.

FRA issued a final rule requiring that locomotives be equipped with extra "alerting lights" at the front of the locomotive in March, 1996. All locomotives operating in excess of 20 miles per hour over public highway-rail crossings were required to be equipped by Dec. 31, 1997. This rule has contributed to an 18 percent reduction in highway-rail crossing collisions in 1996-1998.

The research, which was conducted by the department’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, studied the feasibility of using reflective materials on freight train cars to help prevent collisions in which a motor vehicle strikes the side of a train. Copies of the Volpe Center report can be obtained by calling the FRA at 202-493-6024 or by going to www.volpe.dot.gov/frarnd/rndpubs.htm on the Internet.

The workshop is open to the public. It begins at 9 a.m. in the FRA’s 7th floor conference room #1, 1120 Vermont Ave. N.W.


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