Rail Crossing Safety:

At What Price?

CED-78-83: Published: Apr 25, 1978. Publicly Released: Apr 25, 1978.

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Highway safety legislation includes provisions for supplementing state spending for safety measures at rail-highway crossings. The Federal Highway Administration (FHwA) has designated several types of safety improvements that may be federally funded, including better warning devices or elimination of crossings. The Highway Safety Act of 1976 reduced the percentage of highway safety funds available for high-hazard locations and roadside obstacles and more than doubled the funding for improvements at railroad crossings although only 2 percent of highway deaths occur at grade crossings.

FHwA has not told states what level of safety they should provide at crossings. As a result, states have widely divergent policies for improving crossing safety. During 1975, about 38 percent of crossing accidents occurred at locations having active warning devices. Improvement in law enforcement and drivers' education may offer alternatives to warning devices. State and federal officials favor nationwide safety standards but anticipate difficulties in agreeing on a goal and in funding. Highway legislation established specific funding levels for various programs, but such categorical funding does not give states the necessary flexibility to meet their most critical needs. States contended that high-hazard projects were the most cost beneficial, but some crossing projects were also considered sound investments. FHwA has proposed legislation that would combine six categorical safety programs into a unified fund.

Matter for Congressional Consideration

  1. Status: Closed

    Comments: Please call 202/512-6100 for additional information.

    Matter: The Secretary of Transportation should require FHwA, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration to cooperate with states and railroads in establishing a nationwide level of safety acceptable for rail-highway crossings and determining the best mixture of methods, including education and enforcement, to achieve that level. Congress should: (1) authorize states who are selecting safety projects according to cost-effectiveness to treat the categories as a single safety fund; (2) as an interim solution, reassess the current allocation of funds among the categorical safety programs; (3) require the Department of Transportation to provide it with a cost estimate for reducing accident risk at grade crossings to a uniform level; and (4) if categorical safety funding is retained, amend the Highway Safety Act of 1973 to distribute crossing safety funds among states in proportion to their needs.


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