What is a highway-railroad grade crossing?

According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT), a highway-railroad grade crossing is an intersection where a roadway crosses railroad tracks at the same level. There are more than 250,000 public and private highway-railroad grade crossings in the United States. Annually, an average of between 300-400 deaths occurs at the nation’s grade crossings.

What is the safety issue involved in railroad crossings, and who is responsible?

Because a grade crossing is a point at which more than one mode of transportation meets, several entities, both public and private, have jurisdiction over various aspects of the intersections. Some of these responsibilities are broken out as follows:

• Railroad company – owns and maintains the tracks, and usually owns and maintains the property on either side of the tracks, which is the right-of-way. They usually install and maintain the tracks, roadway surface between and around the rails, and traffic control devices on the rights-of way.
• Public crossing – under the jurisdiction of and maintained by a public authority such as a municipality, county, or state agency.
• Private crossing – roadway is privately owned, or not intended for public use. Examples include crossings on farmland or industrial property. The roadway owner, either public or private, maintains the road approaching the crossing on either side of the tracks.
• Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) – responsible for public grade crossing issues that affect highway safety. Provides guidelines and standards for the correct design of grade crossings, the assessment of safety at the crossing and appropriate placement of traffic control devices at and on the approach to the crossing. Traffic control devices may include advance warning signs, crossbucks (familiar x-shaped signs), pavement markings, bells, gates and flashing lights.
• States – states determine which public crossings are in need of improvement and determine what those improvements will be.
• Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) – regulates the aspects of grade crossing safety pertaining specifically to the railroads. This may include track safety, train-activated warning devices, train safety and visibility/how conspicuous the train is (lights, horns). The FRA also oversees the inspection, testing and maintenance for active railroad crossing signal system safety.

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