Public Education and Awareness
Educational efforts are perhaps the most critically important component of the crossing safety paradigm. The USDOT is a strong supporter of Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI) and currently provides approximately $1.77 million in fiscal year 2007. OLI and its 4,000 volunteer presenters provide free crossing safety and trespass prevention presentations to diverse audiences including primary and secondary school students, general audiences comprised of drivers of all ages, commercial truckers, agricultural audiences and others.
Specialized training such as Grade Crossing Collision Investigation (GCCI) courses are offered to law enforcement personnel as are Officer on the Train events, which allow police to witness firsthand motorist violations in order to spearhead enforcement blitzes. This past year, FMCSA, working in coordination with FRA and OLI, developed a safety visor card that contains vital information to commercial motor vehicle drivers about safety at crossings. Approximately 250,000 cards are being distributed so that motor carrier operators have knowledge of and ready access to information on how to safely approach, navigate and traverse crossings. Large commercial vehicles confront and pose unusual challenges in transiting crossings, often far from home on roads that drivers are unfamiliar with.
As previously mentioned, there has been a 49 percent decrease in crossing collisions since 1990. However, the number of incidents at private crossings has declined by only 14 percent. Most states do not have any regulatory authority over private crossings and there is very little governmental oversight that deals specifically with safety at these locations. Currently FRA is conducting a nationwide safety inquiry that is addressing the challenges posed by private crossings, which will complement FRA’s ongoing comprehensive efforts to improve safety at public crossings.
FRA has conducted four public meetings across the nation to gather input from interested parties on the subject. Meetings were conducted in Fort Snelling, Minn., (Minneapolis area), Raleigh, N.C., New Orleans, La., and San Francisco, Calif. A fifth meeting is scheduled for July in Syracuse, N.Y., where FRA will discuss what it has learned thus far and outline possible steps that may be taken to improve safety at private crossings.
Representatives from railroads, state departments of transportation and regulatory agencies, rail unions and users of private crossings have participated in meetings thus far.
Some of the issues that have been raised include: the lack of uniform signage; lack of data on the physical and operating characteristics; the many different types of access to private property such crossings provide; liability issues; and funding for improvements. FRA welcomes participation in this inquiry and will accept comments electronically through the USDOT’s online docket system at http://dms.dot.gov (Docket number 23281).
FRA is also actively involved in several ongoing research efforts that are aimed at improving crossing safety. Many locomotives are now equipped with digital video cameras that record routine operations. These recordings provide a wealth of factual information about what happens during grade crossing collisions and many near-collision events. These video recordings provide a unique opportunity to learn more about what actions may lead to a collision. FRA has provided a grant of about $500,000 to the North Carolina DOT and Norfolk Southern Railway to determine how this information can best be analyzed. This will enable better educational efforts to target specific driver behaviors and will help to target crossings that experience a large number of near collisions so that engineering improvements may be made at those locations.
FRA and FHWA are working on projects that are targeted to reduce the number of collisions that occur when a vehicle is hung-up, or high-centered on a crossing. These events occur when a vehicle, typically towing a trailer with low ground clearance, goes over a crossing that has a vertical curve, sometimes referred to as a humped crossing. The problem is three fold. One, crossings that have a vertical curve must be identified and the profile of the vertical curve must be captured. Two, the ground clearance and the wheelbase of the vehicle must be known. And three, it must be determined whether the vehicle’s ground clearance and the crossing’s vertical profile will result in the truck being hung-up on the crossing.