The Nature of The Problem
DOT Crossing Safety Initiatives
Secretary's Action Plan
Grade Crossing Task Force
Staffing and Law Inforcement Partnerships
Recent Improvements in Crossing Safety
Focus on Commercial Motor Vehicle Compliance
New Steps are Needed to Enhance Safety at Highway-Rail Crossings
The Future of Crossing Safety: Intelligent Transportation Systems
Planning Safety and Efficiency into the Intermodal Transportation System
Madam Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, once again a tragic transportation accident has taken lives, inflicted severe injuries, and traumatized the families and friends of the victims. Last weeks collision between a tractor trailer carrying steel reinforcement bars and Amtraks City of New Orleans at Bourbonnais, Illinois, follows a collision on June 18, 1998, between a Northern Indiana Commuter Transit District train and a truck carrying steel coils at Portage, Indiana. That collision claimed the lives of two passengers and an employee. These events provide a stark reminder that, despite our best efforts to date, much more must be done to make intermodal intersections safe for all users, a challenge for all of the surface modes of the Department of Transportation (DOT). Under the leadership of Secretary Slater, we have committed to raising the level of safety at these intersections, with the ultimate goal of zero fatalities and zero injuries to occupants of motor vehicles and trains.
Over the last quarter of a century, we have made steady progress toward reducing risk at highway-rail intersections. In the past five years, crashes have been reduced by 30% and fatalities by 33%. Nevertheless, we need to do more to address this problem, which threatens crew members and passengers on trains, as well as motor vehicle occupants.
Ideally, all highway-rail intersections would be grade separated, to virtually eliminate the risk of conflict between rail and highway traffic. With almost 159,000 public and 101,000 private at-grade highway-rail crossings in the United States, however, grade separation everywhere cannot be achieved, and so a broader set of safety measures is required to protect the public.
Trains often cannot stop within the range of vision. Even if they could, hazards can and do arise within the last few seconds as the train approaches a crossing. So highway-rail crossing safety requires many things, including good engineering of roadways, installation of effective signage and warning systems, train-borne devices to provide audible and visual warning of the trains approach, and compliance with laws governing motorist behavior at crossings. The human element is the most important issue we must address as we seek to make our transportation system safer. In some cases we may seek to influence behavior through education, awareness programs, or enforcement of traffic laws. In other cases we must adapt our engineering solutions to anticipate human error.
Through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the Congress has provided over $3 billion in funding for engineering improvements at highway-rail crossings since 1974. States have invested most of these funds in automated warning systems. Since 1987, FHWA and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) have also supported the work of Operation Lifesaver®, Inc.,which reaches deep into the grassroots of America through the efforts of 3,000 volunteer presenters in public schools and "Trooper on the Train" events that expose law enforcement officers to the view from a locomotive cab approaching grade crossingswhere they see the risks motorists take as they try to "beat the train."
By the 1990's, these efforts had cut crashes and casualties in half from the levels of the mid-1970s, even as exposure at these crossings doubled (based on train counts and roadway use). These efforts continue as the foundation for future progress.
As the Clinton Administration assumed office the need became evident for further innovation to drive down risk against a continuing increase in motor vehicle traffic and rail traffic. Facilitating future use of the railroads for passenger service required new creativity. FRAs experience with the whistle ban issue also prompted a search for new safety measures.
In 1994 the Secretary of Transportation announced a 55-point Action Plan to address a wide variety of crossing safety needs, with specific objectives that included both short- and long-term actions. Working as "ONE DOT," FRA, FHWA, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) have been working together to execute the Action Plan, which has spanned a broad range of initiatives in the fields of engineering, education and enforcement, including research and demonstration of new technology. The Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, Research and Special Programs Administration, and other Departmental elements fully support this comprehensive effort.
Under the Action Plan, we have
Conducted a major public awareness campaign, entitled "Always Expect a Train," that has aired in all major media markets nationwide;
Through the National Cooperative Highway Research Program, developed guidelines for photo enforcement and supported a successful photo enforcement demonstration on a shared light rail and freight right of way;
Published a revised compilation of State laws regarding safety at highway-rail crossings;
Held nine regional outreach meetings to encourage consideration of rail issues by Metropolitan Planning Organizations;
Conducted a research needs workshop to help chart a long-range program for crossing safety research;
Encouraged States to employ "Section 402" funds to promote crossing safety;
Published guidelines and strategies for crossing consolidations based on case studies;
Developed and adopted new requirements for reporting casualties due to trespass on railroad property and completed a study of crossing crash demographics.
Mailed to all motor carriers information on the special dangers crossings pose for commercial trucks.
In addition, we have designated the Nations principal rail lines and established a long-term goal of eliminating all at-grade crossings between those lines and the National Highway System.
Recognizing that the keys to crossing safety are found primarily at the State and local level, we have provided guidance to DOT field offices for the conduct of corridor reviews in partnership with States, communities, and railroads. We have also encouraged State DOTs to pursue a corridor approach to crossing safety improvements, including elimination of redundant and hazardous crossings. Under legislation requested by DOT, States can now use Surface Transportation Program (STP) funds to reward communities for closing crossings (in addition to covering direct costs), matching incentive payments that railroads are typically willing to make.
Reducing the number of crossings makes it possible to achieve bigger safety paybacks from investments in automated warning systems and other improvements. Armed with best practice guidelines, available incentive payments (initially from railroads, then from STP funds as well), and a strong safety message, railroads, States, and DOT agencies are working together with communities to make a difference. Since 1991, when FRA set a goal of closing 25% of the Nations crossings by 2001, over 33,000 crossings have been eliminated, for a net reduction of 11%. We obviously still have a long way to go, and we may not achieve our initial timetable. However, across the Nation there are advocates in State DOTs, DOT field offices, railroads, and local communities who can describe examples of corridor improvement programs where crossings were closed and other improvements were made, with positive results for all concerned.
Some of our early Action Plan initiatives took on new forms as we endeavored to implement them. For instance, we set out to develop a "1-800" notification system for malfunction of warning devices at crossings. The initial concept was to use a State-based approach, reflecting efforts in Texas and other States, but incorporating automated logging and retransmission of incoming calls. However, as we worked with this issue we realized that direct notification to the railroads was the preferred approach in an industry dominated by a few large carriers. Through the initiative of those carriers and FRA encouragement, 1-800 signs are now posted at most crossings with automated warning devices; further, railroads are increasingly receptive to our requests that similar signage be posted at passively signed crossings on their systems. Accordingly, we have redirected our efforts to provide software that could be used by small and medium-sized railroads to handle this responsibility.
FRA regulatory actions related to the Action Plan have included completion of the rulemaking on Inspection, Testing and Maintenance of Grade Crossing Signals (final rule published in 1994) and requirements for Locomotive Alerting Lights (final rule published in 1996), both of which fulfilled statutory mandates.
FRA has completed the national study on the impact of train whistle bans called for in the Action Plan, and we have worked with a significant number of communities that wish to plan for quiet zones ahead of the regulation mandated by the 1994 safety legislation. We have prepared a notice of proposed rulemaking (NPRM) and draft environmental impact statement (DEIS) addressing this very controversial and difficult issue. The NPRM and DEIS will be submitted for clearance in the next few weeks, and we hope to conduct public hearings this summer. We expect to offer alternatives to use of the train horn that draw on such disparate sources as North Carolinas Sealed Corridor Initiative and demonstration of photo enforcement in the transit environment.
This year we will publish final results of research on reflectorization of rolling stock (to prevent car-hits-train crashes at night) and complete a cost-benefit study to determine if regulatory action is warranted. We will also be looking at responsibility for safety at private crossings. In most States, public authorities do not address safety at the intersection of privately owned roads and railroads, and FRAs preliminary look at this issue in 1993 suggested that Federal legislation may eventually be required to establish a framework for adjusting rights and responsibilities.
The Action Plan was conceived as a concerted and far-reaching multi-modal effort to advance our crossing safety goals. Many Action Plan items have been completed, and other items are still being pursued by the intermodal team and the respective agencies. (A more detailed summary of Action Plan status is attached to this testimony.)
Following the Fox River Grove, Illinois, school bus tragedy on October 25, 1995, which claimed seven lives, and several truck-train collisions at high-profile crossings, former Secretary Peña established a Grade Crossing Task Force to supplement the Action Plan initiatives. The Task Force fashioned 24 recommendations dealing with
Coordination of responsibility for crossings where warning devices are "interconnected" with nearby highway traffic signals;
Attention to issues related to "storage" of motor vehicles on tracks due to road congestion;
Identification of "high profile" crossings that have the potential for "low boy" trucks to hang up, establishment of guidelines for crossing maintenance to reduce the risk of vehicle hang-up, and development of measures to ensure that vulnerable trucks are routed around crossings that pose a risk; and
Implementation of additional measures to improve safety at grade crossings on light rail transit systems.
Many of the specific recommendations of the Task Force have already been accomplished, including an on-the-ground survey of rail crossings with "interconnected" warning systems that disclosed significant lapses of coordination among State and local highway authorities and the railroads. This led to adjustment of timing sequences at many heavily used crossings, and we believe it also laid the foundation for more effective coordination in the future. Much of this work also continues, including development of specific engineering standards for the identification of "high-profile" crossings.
In order to help carry out initiatives such as those described in the Action Plan and recommendations of the Grade Crossing Safety Task Force, the Department hired eight grade crossing and trespass prevention managers in FY 1994, one for each FRA region. In the same year, we also strengthened our signal and train control staffing to address inspection of crossing warning systems. For FY 1999, we are hiring eight additional people to strengthen our regional crossing safety efforts. Working with our other safety personnel in the field, FHWA district offices, State agencies responsible for crossing safety, the railroads, and local communities, these crossing managers are calling attention to opportunities for cost effective engineering improvements, participating in the work of Operation Lifesaver, and serving as advocates for crossing safety in a variety of forums.
FRA has also instituted a program under which a law enforcement officer detailed from a sponsoring police force works with the agencys safety staff at the national level to promote law enforcement at highway-rail crossings. This program has improved cooperation between law enforcement agencies and the railroads, and this year we will be testing implementation of a similar program at the regional level, using detailed law enforcement officers one week each month to promote law enforcement at crossings.
The Departments Grade Crossing Action Plan and Task Force initiatives have helped to make a difference and save lives. From 1993 to 1998, crossing collisions declined 30% and crossing deaths declined 33%. Based on preliminary 1998 statistics, 422 persons died at highway-rail crossings last year, compared to 626 in 1993. Non-fatal injuries in crossing collisions declined from 1,837 in 1993 to 1,270 in 1998.
While these numbers remain unacceptably high, the trend is encouraging, particularly considering that highway traffic and railroad train miles continued to climb over the period. The trend line tells us we have made some good choices, but we must do more. We need to continually evaluate our priorities and strategies for highway-rail crossing safety and find better ways of driving down risk. Part of that effort must be directed at the special problem of heavy highway vehicles and their impact on the safety of railroad operations.
Heavy trucks and other large highway vehicles pose a special risk at grade crossings because they have the potential to derail trains and cause injury to crew members, rail passengers and to the community. The failure of truck drivers to comply with the law and exercise good judgment at crossings can also pose a risk to other motorists, as in the case of impact between an Amtrak train and a gasoline truck at Fort Lauderdale, Florida, on March 17, 1993, which resulted in the death of the truck driver and five motor vehicle occupants by fire. While most truck and bus drivers are careful and law abiding professionals, those who would take risks with our safety need to be removed from the road.
This is an issue for surface transportation safety, not just highway safety. For instance, in 1997 Amtrak experienced 38 collisions between its trains and heavy trucks at highway-rail crossings, resulting in casualties to motorists, crew members, and passengers, damage to Amtrak rolling stock, and disruption of travel plans for thousands of Amtrak passengers. In addition to affecting lives and property, this problem also adversely impacts Amtraks ability to fulfill its role in the national transportation system.
Our efforts in this area include measures directly targeted at highway-rail crossings and efforts to ensure that drivers and their rigs conform to applicable laws and regulations. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations require certain types of commercial motor vehicle (CMV) operators to stop before entering railroad grade crossings, including buses carrying passengers and trucks with hazardous cargo. The operators of all other CMVs must approach a railroad grade crossing slowly enough to stop, if necessary, before reaching the track, and must exercise "due caution" before proceeding. On July 30, 1998, FHWA proposed rules to prohibit operators of commercial motor vehicles from driving onto a highway-rail crossing unless there is sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping.
Driver awareness is an important element of crossing safety. FHWA has sent safety alertscalled "ON GUARD"to all motor carriers of record, warning them of the dangers of "challenging" trains at grade crossings and urging them to take measures to avoid getting hung up on high-profile crossings. FHWA has also worked with the National Safety Council to make wide distribution of "Safedriver" pamphlets entitled "Dont Gamble on the Tracks." In addition, we have provided trade publications across the country with public service ads called, "Trucks and Tracks Dont Mix," alerting drivers to expect a train at any time from either direction on any track.
Safety at highway-rail crossings is part of DOTs comprehensive effort to improve motor carrier safety. FHWAs Commercial Drivers License (CDL) Program, and NHTSAs National Drivers Register (NDR), are administered by the respective States. The CDL Program, which provides uniform standards for States to issue CDLs to drivers with the knowledge and skills to safely operate commercial motor vehicles, works in tandem with the NDR to identify drivers with risk-taking driving behavior. The Commercial Drivers License Information System (CDLIS) enables FHWA and its State partners to share up-to-date information about drivers safety histories. The CDL and CDLIS make it easier for Federal and State officials to remove unqualified and high-risk truck drivers from the roadway. FHWA is expanding the rail crossing safety material in both the CDL manual and on the required CDL test. FHWA is also providing grants to States to improve the quality and reliability of commercial driver records data as it moves through State judicial systems and motor vehicle administrations. FHWA is writing to each State to register its objections to limited licenses for drivers who exhibit high-risk behavior and may use the CDL requirements to encourage States to take a harder line on high-risk commercial drivers.
FHWA has developed formal continuing education courses for the judiciary, legislators, prosecutors, and law enforcement groups. The Commercial Vehicle Safety Partnership Program, formerly the Judicial/Executive Overview Program, is designed to explain the purpose of commercial motor vehicle safety regulations and the need for appropriate penalties, and to stimulate leadership on commercial motor vehicle safety.
FHWA has issued a proposed rule responsive to section 403 of the ICC Termination Act of 1995 that would mandate disqualification of drivers who are convicted of violating laws or regulations pertaining to highway-rail grade crossings. This rulemaking will be finalized over the next few weeks.
The Federal Highway Administration and the States, through the Motor Carrier Safety Action Program (MCSAP), conduct motor carrier compliance audits, roadside inspections, and other compliance activities to ensure that safety requirements are being met for both vehicles and drivers.
FRA and FHWA personnel who responded to the tragic collision at Bourbonnais, Illinois, just last week shared the sense of shock and grief felt by families and friends of those who lost their lives or were seriously injured in that event. The National Transportation Safety Board will need time to complete its detailed investigation of this event and to publish its findings of probable cause. We will look forward to the Boards findings and recommendations, but we must act now to translate heightened awareness into specific, concrete actions that can save lives in the future.
Key initiatives to address this safety include:
Launch an Amtrak crossing safety blitz to enlist local law enforcement. DOT personnel will work with Amtrak, host freight railroads, Operation Lifesaver, and State and local officials to mount "Trooper on the Train" events that will carry law enforcement officers over corridors on Amtraks system that have clusters of heavily used crossings with predicted high collision risk, starting in Illinois. We will seek partnerships with local law enforcement agencies to provide as much emphasis on law enforcement at critical intermodal intersections as they would at highway intersections.
If this effort proves successful, we will progressively apply this technique to commuter railroad lines, as well.
Conduct a corridor review of the Amtrak system. Amtraks intercity network presents a special risk environment because of the interaction of several factors, including: the large number of crossings (in excess of 20,000); the presence of many crossings with frequent truck traffic; the number of crossings that lack automated warning devices; and the number of governmental entities responsible for those crossings (States, counties, cities, town and villages). Ironically, the fact that only one passenger train may traverse many of these crossings on a given day makes the situation even more dangerous when a train does arrive. The train that motorists may expect is a slower freight train that may take several minutes to arrive at and traverse the crossing, and the temptation to beat the train is unfortunately more than many motorists can resist.
The Bourbonnais collision illustrates once again the special hazards inherent in the presence of highway-rail crossings on our Nations intercity rail passenger network. Accordingly, the Department will initiate a corridor review of the Amtrak system, seeking the cooperation of Amtrak, host freight railroads, and State and local governments. We will start where we know the problem is serious (based up accident experience, application of our prediction model, and information from our field staffs), refine our data as we go by updating the national crossing inventory, identify opportunities for consolidation of crossings and low-cost safety enhancements, and call attention to critical situations where automated warning devices need to be installed or planning is required to move toward a grade separation. We will also urge that new approaches such as median barriers and photo enforcement be employed where they are needed. We realize that follow-up to this review will be time consuming and difficult, but it must be done.
Encourage use of photo enforcement. Photo enforcement--supported by stiff sanctions under rigorously enforced State laws--is an effective means of reducing violations and crashes at crossings on problem corridors. A demonstration funded by FRA and the Federal Transit Administration on the Los Angeles Blue Line showed excellent results, and the technique is being used successfully to deter speeding and red-light running on the highway. We will alert the States that both "Section 130" highway-rail crossing funds and "Section 402" traffic safety funds are eligible for this use and should be actively considered for appropriate applications where automated warning systems alone are not doing the job.
Seize on other new options to reduce risk. We will ask States and communities to consider new engineering options. For example, at many crossings it should be possible to place median barriers (curbs) or flexible delineators in the center of the roadway to stop trucks and cars from disregarding flashing lights and going around gates. This may not be needed (nor may it be practical) everywhere, but technology demonstrations we have already conducted show that where medians are employed we would expect a reduction in violations on the order of 80% or more. Particularly challenging crossings may require gates in all four "quadrants" of the crossing, preventing cars from entering the crossing by driving around the entrance gates.
Options for crossings that may not warrant immediate investments in automated warning systems include enhanced illumination using existing commercial power and more extensive use of stop signs to supplement crossbucks. We need to employ options like these for the 62% of public highway-rail crossings that still lack automated warning systems. If the best solutions are not attainable immediately, we need to find good solutions that can enhance safety in the near term.
Develop risk-based standards for highway-rail crossings. DOT offices and operating administrations are working collaboratively to develop categorical, risk-based standards for highway-rail crossings. This effort will be led by a ONEDOT team and an intermodal Technical Working Group broadly representative of surface transportation interests. This is a new approach to addressing crossing safety needs.
In the past, we have asked the States to look at the available funding and apply it to the most pressing crossing safety needs. This new approach will ask what safety requires or "warrants" for crossings with various types of characteristics (traffic and traffic types, number of tracks, sight distances, roadway and train speeds, etc.), prompting us to look more closely at options for closing the gap, including use of optional safety set-aside funding and other STP funding already available to the States under TEA-21. We are presently conducting a literature review to provide the foundation for the discussion, and we will shortly ask for the participation of States and local governments, railroads, professional organizations and others to make this standards effort broad-based and effective.
This effort will also respond to recommendations of the National Transportation Safety Board that emerged from the Boards recent study, Safety at Passive Grade Crossings.
Produce and distribute a "roll call" video. We will extend the Action Plan law enforcement strategies by preparing a short video for use at police and sheriff "roll calls," disseminating copies as extensively as possible. This video will emphasize the importance to public safety of compliance with highway-rail crossing warning systems and will call attention to the special problem of non-compliance by operators of heavy trucks. This is one way of reaching thousands of law enforcement officers with whom we would not otherwise have direct interaction.
Draft a new model state law for crossing safety. In 1997, FRA issued a model state law for prevention of railroad trespass and vandalism. This measure has been enacted by the State of Iowa. The measure has been introduced in the legislatures of seven additional States (Maine Montana, Vermont, West Virginia, Illinois, Indiana and Washington), and we hope for favorable consideration in many States over the coming years. Unfortunately, many State laws governing motorist behavior at highway-rail crossings are outdated, ambiguous regarding the actions required, or lack meaningful penalties for non-compliance. FRA, FHWA and NHTSA will work together to review the current Uniform Vehicle Code crossing provisions, compare them with best practices from progressive State laws, and work toward revisions that we will ask the States to consider for enactment.
Issue an urgent call to update the National Highway-Rail Crossing Inventory. We will ask States and railroads to update the national inventory by the end of this year and not less than bi-annually thereafter. Good data is the foundation of effective safety solutions, and we need to make sure we can find both the problems and the solutions with a high degree of confidence.
Update the Manual for Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD). We will propose to develop for inclusion in the MUTCD standards or recommended practices for a 1-800 number sign, four-quadrant gate installations, median barriers/lane separators for use at highway-rail crossings, interconnection and preemption installations, pre-signal placement and operation, a different advance warning sign for crossings equipped with automatic warning devices and variations on the standard crossbuck, e.g., Ohios version.
Conduct an International Scan. We will refresh our study of European practices regarding highway-rail crossings, involving State, local and industry officials in that process. We need to learn more from international experience.
Over the past few years, many strategies have been proposed for enhancing crossing safety through the application of new technology. DOT, through FRA, FHWA, and FTA, has been at the forefront of efforts to test and demonstrate new technology that may have merit for preventing crashes at highway-rail crossings. These efforts need to continue, and we need to be open to approaches that show technical merit and have the potential to be cost effective. To date, some systems have lacked technical merit and others have not shown promise to be cost effective as stand-alone systems. Ongoing demonstrations will be watched closely for promising approaches.
Ultimately, it is possible to foresee effective in-vehicle warning systems that could function both at crossings that have automated warning systems and those that do not. Clearly, the first application for such systems should be on priority vehicles, such as ambulances, fire and rescue trucks, police vehicles, school buses and vehicles carrying certain hazardous materials. However, in-vehicle warning in private motor vehicles is also an attainable goal as Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) grow in sophistication. Indeed, in a notice published December 23, 1997, FHWA opened the public dialogue on the "Intelligent Vehicle Initiative," which is envisioned as including a railroad crossing collision avoidance element.
In order to be cost effective, in-vehicle warning systems for crossing risks will need to use the same hardware and software platforms that are used for other purposes, such as navigation and warning of hazards like approaching emergency vehicles, traffic crashes blocking the roadway, weather-related alertsand perhaps even motor vehicle collision avoidance. This is not by any means fanciful. For a variety of purposes, increasing numbers of highway vehicles are equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) location systems and on-board highway databases. Digital information is routinely sent to and from some highway vehicles for commercial purposes. As ITS standards are developed over the next few years, these kinds of systems can be integrated to provide much higher levels of functionality.
Railroads are also implementing more capable on-board electronic systems. As railroads implement Positive Train Control (PTC) systems over the next decade, the railroads should be able to provide digital data for broadcast on ITS channels that can be used to predict the arrival of approaching trains at crossings toward which any particular highway vehicle is moving. Under one scenario, the system might be made near-failsafe by including a periodic "no trains" message, and if the highway vehicle failed to receive the message expected in that sector the motorist could be alerted that the warning system is down.
FRA is currently working with FHWA and ITS America to develop standards for ITS User Service 30 (Highway-Rail Intersections). Initial organizing steps have been initiated within government, and a call for participation in formal standards development has been issued.
It is important to note that viable in-vehicle warning systems will not emerge spontaneously, nor will they be available immediately. To be affordable and truly useful, these systems will need to serve a variety of purposes. Further, equipping of trains with PTC systems will take a period of years after the technologynow under developmentis ready for deployment. Now is the time to start planning for systems that can serve the public interest while being attractive to purchasers of motor vehicles. However, we should not be fooled into believing that the solutions are at our fingertips. Technology integration poses a major challenge, the availability of adequate radio spectrum to support needed uses remains to be demonstrated, and many potential users will need to be involved in describing the path to success.
Research and demonstration of advanced technologies. Meanwhile, we will continue to perfect allied technologies that may have specific applications at crossings where risk is high. For instance, FHWA is supporting a demonstration of a radio-based system designed to integrate train, grade crossing, and highway traffic control systems, including uniform warning time, variable message signs, and stalled vehicle detection. Supported in part by FRA funding, Amtrak has placed in service a four-quadrant gate installation on the Northeast Corridor at Groton, Connecticut, that includes vehicle detection loops and a link to the train control system that can warn and stop the train should a highway vehicle remain on the crossing after the gates descend. A similar system will be installed at another crossing where train speeds will exceed 80 miles per hour in Connecticut prior to the start of high-speed service later this year.
Amtrak, the State of Michigan, and FRA are implementing a crossing pre-start feature within the Incremental Train Control System being installed on the designated high-speed corridor in Michigan. This feature determines that the crossing is functioning properly and provides this information to the train through this new high-speed PTC system.
Supported by funding provided through FRA and FHWA, the State of Illinois has installed flexible barrier systems at three locations on the designated high speed line between Chicago and St. Louis. This vehicle arrester barrier or "dragnet" has been shown adequate to stop a heavy truck operating at 60 miles per hour without serious injury to the occupants.
Clearly, these kinds of technology are expensive and appropriate only where necessary to fill a specific need, including enhancing the safety of high-speed operations by keeping vehicles off the tracks that could cause serious derailments and harm to passengers and crew. However, as the technologies become more affordable, they may have limited application elsewhere on the national rail system.
Knowing when to consider special investments in crossing systems is as important has having the technology available to meet the need. As part of the Next Generation High Speed Rail Program, FRA has performed an in-depth study of risks at highway-rail grade crossings where high speed passenger trains may operate. Of course, as tragically illustrated at Bourbonnais, conventional passenger trains operating at speeds in the 80 mph range are also at risk; but when the accelerated speeds of developing corridors are considered, with proposed speeds in the 125 mph range, the grade crossing risk issue becomes even greater. In view of the large number of crossings, not all of which can be removed, it is clear that our resources for enhancing crossing protection systems must be well-targeted to achieve maximum risk reduction for each investment.
FRA analyzed the grade crossing accident historical records for the past twenty years, and also examined the statistical model which has been used and well validated as part of how Section 130 highway funds have been targeted at the crossings with the greatest risk. We also analytically estimated the risks to persons aboard the trains, both passengers and crew, as well as persons occupying highway vehicles of all types, as a function of train speeds. This analysis addressed all train speeds, not only the proposed higher speeds on the developing corridors.
The study found that the greatest risk, and one which continues to increase with train speed, results when a train impacts a heavy highway vehicle such as the flatbed trailer at Bourbonnais. We also know that many crossings are seldom used by such vehicles. By accurately characterizing the highway traffic, both in terms of types of vehicles as well as numbers, we can provide additional warning systems at relatively few crossings and still have major risk reduction.
In tandem, projects such as the North Carolina Sealed Corridor, also sponsored under the Next Generation Program, have shown that practical, inexpensive methods such as median barriers or longer gate arms, can be applied to prevent highway vehicles from intruding into the path of the approaching train.
We also need to focus on risk factors which may increase the consequences of an impact or derailment at a particular crossing, such as the bridge columns which were present in the recent tragic high speed train accident in Germany. A combination of focussing on particular crossings, with optimum application of the most cost-effective mitigation techniques, can deliver effective risk reduction at crossings.
One problem is that accurate data about the highway traffic to enable the necessary risk calculations may not exist for many crossings. FRA is addressing this problem by sponsoring advanced video monitoring techniques using computer image recognition. In the near future, we will make available monitoring systems which can be placed near a crossing and left unattended. The system will view the highway traffic and automatically characterize and count the numbers of vehicles, as well as documenting events such as gate running. In a relatively short time, a complete and accurate characterization can be made of the crossings on an entire corridor, and the optimum risk reduction strategy--maximum risk reduction for any feasible investment level--can then be formulated and followed.
In addition to these technology demonstration efforts, we will continue to pursue an aggressive research effort directed at highway-rail crossing safety. Our research plan includes a program element that addresses the following: human factors of motor vehicle drivers; visual and audio warnings; motor vehicle, train presence and obstacle detection; crossing geometry, crossing gate and light technology; and risk assessments. For example, we have committed to work with NHTSA on driver behavior studies at grade crossings on their new National Advanced Driving Simulator (NADS) at the University of Iowa after it becomes operational.
Highway-rail crossings remain an undesirable feature of our intermodal transportation system that grew up over the last century and a half. Beginning with the Intermodal Transportation Efficiency Act of 1991, and continuing with TEA-21 and other enactments, the Congress has recognized the need for coordinated planning at the metropolitan level to complement State and National planning efforts. Nevertheless, too often intersections between roads and railroads continue to be overlooked.
Through the Action Plan and other initiatives, DOT is encouraging efforts to consolidate these crossings, to provide improved warning systems on those that remain, and to provide grade-separations where warranted to improve the safety and mobility of our citizens. As communities face more frequent train movements on the lines of newly merged railroads that continue to grow their business, in part by assisting motor carriers to move their trailers and containers by rail for the long haul, we need to recognize that addressing highway-rail intersections is necessary to achieving a balanced national transportation system. We all have a role to play in improving rail crossing safety.
We look forward to working with the subcommittee to help assure safety and save lives, and we would be happy to respond to any questions.