The U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) yesterday announced the publication of a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) to improve safety at public highway-rail grade crossings nationwide. The proposed rule would require all states and the District of Columbia to develop and implement a new or updated highway-rail grade crossing action plan no later than one year after the effective date of the final rule.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) will review states’ action plans for sufficiency and, upon approval, publish the plans on the internet. The DOT says these action plans “will enable states to prioritize infrastructure and equipment investments at railway crossings using a variety of resources, including Federal formula funds and grants.”

Preventable collisions

“Grade crossing collisions are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in America, but nearly every one of them is preventable,” said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory.  “The action plans provide states a tool to engage with federal and local partners, railroads, and rail safety advocates to identify high risk crossings and develop strategies to save lives.”

Since 2017, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has distributed more than $900 million in formula funds to States for grade crossing improvements through the Section 130 program. An additional $324 million in discretionary grant funds were granted to 43 projects that include grade crossing improvements and trespass prevention elements, with more than 500 grade crossings in 26 states to be improved as a result of these investments.

A helpful handbook

The DOT has also revised its Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook – the first update in more than a decade. The Handbook is a resource for constructing and maintaining safer highway-rail grade crossings and offers guidance for best practices and new standards to improve safety at the Nation’s 130,000 public rail and road junctures. It provides important information on highway-rail crossings and characteristics of the crossing environment and users, and was developed in conjunction with stakeholders and safety advocates. The guidance focuses on the physical and operational improvements that can be made at highway-rail grade crossings to enhance the safety and operation of both highway and rail traffic over crossing intersections.

In addition to this, the DOT this year conducted the 4th annual multi-million-dollar targeted railroad crossing safety campaign called “Stop. Trains Can’t.” to increase public awareness of railroad crossings and to reduce injuries and death. The campaign focused on cities that have the highest vehicle/train incidents in the past 10 years.

How to comment

Comments on the proposed rule on State Action Plans are due to FRA by January 6, 2020. For further information and instructions on how to comment on the proposed rulemaking, see the NPRM as published in the Federal Register at

The Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook, Third Edition is a joint publication of FHWA and FRA and can be downloaded free of charge at