FRA is testing a laser device that gathers information about the vertical profile of crossings. This device can be mounted on a hi-rail vehicle or other equipment and would be able to scan and capture vertical measurements as it moves down the track. If use of the device proves to be feasible, it will enable vertical profile measurements to be gathered much more quickly and efficiently than the current manual methods utilizing conventional survey measurements. The long-term goal of the project is to construct a database that contains profile information which could be used by transportation planners or fleet managers in determining the safest route for trucks or other specialized vehicles.
Meanwhile, FHWA has been conducting research on the feasibility of using in-pavement devices that would measure the ground clearance and wheelbase of vehicles. If this technology works, then such information could be easily obtained so that the driver of the vehicle would know the exact configuration of the vehicle. If the crossing profile and the vehicle configuration are known, it will then be possible to determine whether the vehicle will become hung-up at a crossing. Information captured by this means would also prove invaluable in determining optimal routes for particular types of vehicles.
This article has focused on some of the activities of the USDOT in addressing highway-rail grade crossing safety. It must be understood that the improvements that have been realized are the result of the efforts of many different parties. Railroads, rail labor organizations, state agencies, the rail supply industry, researchers, law enforcement and many other groups have made important contributions. Continued cooperation and effort by all parties will be needed to bring about further improvements so collisions between trains and motor vehicles can be averted.
A person is 20 times more likely to be fatally injured in a collision between a train and car than when involved in a collision between two cars.
Anticipated increases in commuter rail, light rail and transit operations alone will certainly impact the level of exposure underlying train-vehicle collisions. These operations will undoubtedly involve more and longer trains, operating at higher speeds over the same tracks and through the same crossings. Passengers on these trains often travel to rail stations by motor vehicle, and parking near the stations often requires those motorists to cross tracks. It is therefore important to consider the presence of at-grade crossings when assessing the safety of existing and new rail transit operations. Planners and managers of transit operations should look closely at the experience of conventional rail operations, and use the lessons learned to prevent needless collisions and casualties. FRA stands prepared to work with the mass transit community.
Ronald Ries is staff director for the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention Division, Office of Safety at the Federal Railroad Administration.