Congress working to improve safety around dangerous highway-rail crossings nationwide

Some of the most dangerous intersections in the country are where roads meet train tracks.

There were 2,201 highway-rail collisions in 2022.

Railroad officials say 95% of rail-related deaths are rail-crossing incidents or trespassing near tracks and most of these accidents are preventable.

Federal data shows 272 people died in collisions at rail grade crossings in 2022

The National Transportation Safety Board chair Jennifer Homendy said these crashes have increased by 34% over the last decade.

“The safest grade crossing is no grade crossing. In a perfect world our rail system would be completely separate from our roads which means building overpasses and underpasses,” said Homendy.

On Capitol Hill this week, lawmakers met with federal regulators and transportation leaders to discuss safety improvements.

“We’ve recommended converting passive grade crossings to active ones increasing and improving signage and ensuring proper road design, so vehicles don’t bottom out and get stuck on the tracks,” said Homendy.

Ian Jefferies, who runs the Association of American Railroads, told lawmakers carriers are working to implement new technology to upgrade warning systems.

“The future is potentially onboard sensors, continuous sensing, the future is autonomous detector and so we have to make sure collectively any policy structured around this allows for that consistent innovation with an ever-improving safety outcome,” said Jefferies.

Part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law created a new grant program to help states eliminate crossings and improve safety. So far, the federal government awarded more than $570 million in grants to 32 states.

Jeffries said input from local communities is key.

“That’s because states not railroads are responsible for the road infrastructure at grade crossings and in deciding which grade crossings to prioritize for action,” said Jefferies.

Some officials say drivers also pose some of the biggest challenges when it comes to making these crossings safer. That’s because some people ignore warning signs like flashing lights and ringing bells and even drive around lowered gates.

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