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5. "Report of the Hazardous Materials Transportation Task Force." U. S. Department of Transportation. September, 1978.

6. National Transportation Safety Board, "Safety Effectiveness Evaluation of the Federal Railroad Administration's Hazardous Materials and Track Safety Programs." Report No. NTSB-SEE-79-2. Report Date March 8, 1979.

7. "Hazardous Materials Transportation: A Review and Analysis of the Department of Transportation's Regulatory Program." Prepared at the request of Hon. Howard W. Cannon, Chairman, Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. United States Senate. April, 1979. (U.S. Government Printing Office No. 42-112 O.)


Washington, D.C., March 21, 1980.

Chairman, Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation,
U.S. Senate, Washington, D.C.

DEAR MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you for your recent letter concerning the status of rail-highway crossing safety.

Enclosed are our responses to the fourteen questions regarding rail-highway crossing safety programs which were forwarded with your letter.

We have tried to be both responsive and concise in preparing a reply in time for your use. However, you have touched on some very complex issues with which this Department has been struggling for nearly a decade.

My staff would welcome the opportunity to review any of these issues in more detail with you or the Committee staff. Mr. James A. Carney, of the Federal Highway Administration (426-0104) and Mr. Bruce F. George, of the Federal Railroad Administration (426-0895), may be contacted if your staff wishes to schedule a briefing.

Your interest in this distressing problem is appreciated. Please be assured we will assist in any possible way.




Question. How many railroad grade crossings are there in the United States? Answer.

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Taken from the U.S. DOT-AAR Rail-Highway Crossing Inventory as of June 1979, and published in FRA's Rail-Highway Crossing Accident/Incident and Inventory Bulletin No. 1. Question. Please tell the Committee how many collisions, deaths, injuries, and property damage there have been due to grade crossing accidents for each of the last four years in the United States

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1 1979 data are preliminary. 1976-1978 data are taken from FRA published Accident/Incident Bulletins No. 145-147 and the Rail-Highway Crossing Accident/Incident and Inventory Bulletin No. 1.

2 All accidents and incidents, not just those involving motor vehicles.

Excludes cost of clearing wreck. Includes labor cost, and all other costs to repair or replace in kind damaged on-track equipment, signals, track, track structures, or roadbed. An accident's property damage was not reportable unless it exceeded $2,900 in 1979; $2,300 in 1977 and 1978; and $1,750 in 1976. Note that damage to nonrailroad property (e.g., highway vehicle) is not included.

Collision, fatality and injury data are for public crossings only. Data for private crossings indicate:

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1 1979 data are preliminary. 1976-1978 data are taken from FRA published Accident/Incident Bulletins No. 145-147 and the Rail-Highway Crossing Accident/Incident and Inventory Bulletin No. 1.

2 All accidents and incidents, not just those involving motor vehicles.

(a) For each of these categories, please provide us with the percentage these grade crossing accidents were in comparison to total deaths, injuries, collisions, and property damage experienced in the railroad area during this four-year period. Percent of railroad totals attributable to rail-highway crossing:

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Question. What does the Department of Transportation believe are the main reasons for railroad grade crossing accidents?

Answer. There are a multitude of complex, interrelated factors which contribute to any railroad-highway crossing accident. As in any motor vehicle accident, the driver, the vehicle, the roadway, and the general environment may contribute to the occurrence of a crossing accident. Additionally, in the case of a collision with a train, certain physical features of the train, such as inadequate headlights and inaudible signals, may contribute toward crossing accidents. The average driver rarely encounters a train at a crossing. On those occasions it may be difficult for the driver to properly judge the speed of the approaching train due to the large relative size of the train and the drivers inexperience. The FRA and FHWA are currently pursuing coordinated research efforts aimed at casual and human factors as they relate to railroad-highway crossing accidents. Current engineering improvements being carried out through the FHWA administered program to improve crossing safety are aimed at improving the roadway and crossing environment. The National Safety Council, with the cooperation and support of the FHWA and FRA is spearheading an effort to have all States adopt an Operation Lifesaver Program. A major goal of this program is to educate drivers of the hazards they face at railroadhighway crossings, the message the various warning devices are trying to relay to the driver, and what the driver's duties are in response to these warnings. The FRA and the railroads are currently considering methods of improving the conspicuity of trains. All these efforts are aimed at reducing the potential for a railroad-highway crossing accident.

Question. The General Accounting Office stated that the Department of Transportation in 1972 recommended to the Congress development of a 10-year program to install train-activated warning devices at 30,000 railroad grade crossings. These improvements were expected to prevent about 4,000 accidents and 500 deaths annu

ally. Does the Department presently have specific goals for the grade crossing safety program?

Answer. The "recommendation" referred to by the GAO was an identification of needs for the installation of warning devices at about 30,000 crossings which if accomplished over a 10-year period would be a rate of installation three times greater than the then current rate. The categorical program for crossing improvements which was eventually passed varied significantly from the recommendations of the Department and as a result the 10-year 30,000 crossing figure is perhaps a desirable but not a mandated program objective. The legislated flexibility of the 203 Program provides for a variety of improvements at crossings (active devices, pavement markings, advance signing, surface improvements, crossbucks, etc.); permits up to 50 percent expenditures for other than warning devices; and allows the 40 percent transfer of funds to other safety programs. Such a varied program does not permit the establishment of quantifiable goals for fund utilization by type of improvements. The selection of projects and the nature of improvements proposed to reduce hazards at rail-highway crossings is the prerogative of the State highway agencies. The flexibility and continuity of the program, however, is ideally suited for administering a program to respond to individual State needs which when taken together maximize national benefits.

Question. If so, what are these goals and on what basis were they determined? Answer. On the premise that no level of accidents is "acceptable" the FHWA objective must be stated in the broadest sense as the continuing reduction of the number and severity of accidents and the decrease of the potential for accidents on all highways. This is accomplished through the effective administration of a continuing program to improve conditions at crossings in accordance with comprehensive safety improvement programs developed by the individual States as part of the total Federal-aid highway program. The FHWA has maximized the benefits derived from the program by first of all urging an active program fully utilizing available funding. Second, FHWA has required emphasis to be placed on at least meeting minimum requirements for warning devices (crossbucks and advance warning) at each crossing. A third identifiable effort is the promotion of research, development, and implementation of new technology involving crossing safety.

The FRA role which has evolved is one of promoting the Federal program, of assisting FHWA, States, Association of American Railroads (AAR) and railroad program managers, and of trying to ensure that States, railroads and the public receive full benefit of public programs which address this problem and which acknowledge the operating and fiscal realities of railroading. FRA has made a three fold commitment: First, to maintain the US DOT-AAR Rail-Highway Crossing Inventory in an as up-to-date fashion as possible given State and railroad voluntary participation in the program; second, to promote, through research and analysis, the consideration of new ideas regarding the problem whether they be innovative hardware or program management techniques; and third, to be available to speak for the program and to promote it by encouraging open communication and coordination among State, railroad, industry and Federal officials.

Question. If you have set up goals in this area, what effectiveness measures have you developed to monitor the progress toward meeting these goals?

Answer. It is difficult to establish effectiveness measures for broad objectives that must necessarily be established for this program. The general reduction in crossing accidents and casualties is, of course, an indication of effectiveness but is the combined result of programs involving highway and railroad improvements, improvements to vehicles and driver education. General indications of effectiveness used to assess the continuing program include utilization of program funds, an annual report submitted by the States describing program progress, extent of utilization of US-DOT-AAR Rail-Highway Crossing Inventory information and general interest in program activities as expressed by the public.

In addition, the Federal Highway Administration, through its Program Emphasis Area, has placed management concern on this area for the last two years. For Fiscal Year 1979, the Federal Highway Administration reviewed the States' rail crossing program inventory and evaluated the currentness and coverage of these inventories. Based upon a review of the States' performance in this area, the Office of Highway Safety is conducting followup monitoring of goal accomplishment to provide a continuing evaluation of State performance in improving rail highway crossing safety.

Question. For the last four years, could you give us a detailed breakdown of the causes and types of grade crossing accidents. Is it possible to state on a numerical and percentage basis how many of these accidents took place at grade crossings of various defined types of protection systems, such as train-activated signals, train

activated signals plus gates, non-train-activated signals, etc.? If this type of data breakdown is not available, what type of data breakdown do you have in this area? Answer. As mentioned in the answer to question 2(b) the relative significance of the many causes is not yet well understood. It is not possible for us to provide such a breakdown regarding causes.

As to accident types, the data can be subdivided and accumulated in many ways: time of day, day of week, weather, who struck whom, available warning devices, type of train, type of vehicle, train and vehicle speeds, locales, observed motorist actions, directions of travel, number of tracks, highway lanes, etc. Please refer to FRA's Rail-Highway Crossing Accident/Incident and Inventory Bulletin, No. 1 for Calendar Year 1978, a copy of which is attached. The following is extracted from Table 23:


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Question. Would you please provide us how much money and manpower was allocated to railroad grade crossing accidents by the Federal Railroad Administration and the Federal Highway Administration in the last four fiscal years?



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The Federal Highway Administration rail-highway crossing safety programs are administered through the state highway agencies in the same manner as all Federal-aid highway projects. Funds are annually apportioned to the states who select and construct projects. The following table shows by fiscal year the amount of Federal-air highway funds, all fund classes, authorized for crossing safety improve


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During the period October 1, 1978, through November 30, 1979, FHWA authorized $269.4 million Federal-aid highway funds for the construction of grade separations. This expenditure for a 14-month period indicates an increased rate of activity in the

grade separation programs by the states. During the last four fiscal years, 631 new grade separations have been completed, 645 grade separations reconstucted, and active warning devices installed and completed at 3,143 at-grade crossings for a total cost of over $836 million in Federal funds. Preliminary engineering work at many more crossings was actively underway during this period. During the same 4-year period FHWA expended $1,183,000 in related rail-highway crossing research, plus $185,000 for developing and conducting training courses related to crossing safety. It is estimated that approximately 60 man-years of FHWA time is annually devoted to administering_the_Federal-aid rail-highway crossing program. The time and resources expended by the states, local authorities, and railroads in the development and construction of projects is substantial.

Question. How much is requested for this area this year separately by the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration?

Answer. FRA's fiscal year 1981 request includes $673,000 and six person-years which is planned for rail-highway program efforts.

Regarding the FHWA, the Surface Transportation Assistance Act of 1978 authorized from the Highway Trust Fund additional sums to continue the rail-highway crossing categorical safety program and regular Federal-aid highway program, which are used to fund improvements at crossings, through fiscal year 1982. In addition, trust funds are also available to continue FHWA's current crossing safety program through fiscal year 1982.

Question. The General Accounting Office, in their report, "Railroad Crossing Safety-At What Price?", argued that the formula for funding states in the rail crossing area should take "need" into account and should not be allocated on a merely population or geographical basis. How exactly does the formula operate at the present time in this area?

Answer. In accordance with the Highay Safety Act of 1978, Sec. 203, and the United States Code, Title 23; Highways, Sec., 104, the following allocation proportions are used:


25 percent.-One-third in the ratio which the area of each state bears to the total area of all the states.

One-third in the ratio which the population of rural areas of each state bears to the total population of rural areas of all states.

One-third in the ratio which the mileage of rural delivery and intercity mail routes where service is performed by motor vehicles in each state bears to the total of such mileage in all states.

25 percent. In the ratio which the population in urban areas, or parts thereof, in each state bears to the total population in such urban areas in all states.

50 percent. In the ratio that total rail-highway crossings in each state bears to the total of such crossings in all states.

The 50 percent is a consideration added in the 1978 Act as a result of the referenced GAO report. (See pertinent Committee comments: Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works-Senate Report No. 833, May 15, 1978, pages 10-11.) This action, along with the opening of the program to all public crossings versus just those on Federal-Aid Systems, has gone a long way towards placing the monies where problems are greatest.

Question. Do you believe that factors of need could be built more effectively into the formula?

Answer. The changes in the apportionments formula from the Highway Safety Act of 1978 and the expansion of the program to include all public crossings have substantially improved the States' ability to more effectively address the rail grade crossing problem. At this time we do not see the need for further modifications of the apportionment formula.

Question. If so, how do you believe this need factors should be dealt with the formula?

Answer. Although we do not see the need for changes to the formula at this time, there may be a need to reassess the formula as the program progresses. The FHWA currently has two efforts underway which may result in the promulgation of warrants for rail-highway crossings and/or of new regulations applicable to program management. Either or both of these may be useful in defining further program needs.

Question. The General Accounting Office stated that the Department of Transportation had under development computer models to provide States an analytical model as to how to prioritize the various needs for upgrading grade crossing problems. What is the status of this analysis?

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