Highway-rail grade crossings get attention in infrastructure bill

A photograph of a highway-rail grade crossing. There is a train with boxcars and tank cars crossing the intersection.

The latest iteration of the surface transportation and infrastructure bill has additional provisions for highway-rail grade crossings amid constituent and emergency responders’ concerns about long wait times at blocked crossings.

The new provisions spelled out in the INVEST in America Act include a comprehensive review of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s (DOT) national highway-rail crossing inventory, which would verify inventory data using mapping technologies and other means. 

Another new provision are revisions on how the federal government collects data on suicides occurring at railroad crossings and railroad rights of way. The revisions would enable the federal government to require fatality data from state and local agencies, the railroads and other entities. 

Meanwhile, other provisions remained intact in the bill, which the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed on June 18 and then on June 22 were folded into a larger, trillion-dollar package called the Moving Forward Act, or H.R. 2.

These provisions include penalties for blocking a rail crossing for more than 10 minutes except for certain conditions and the development of a strategy by the DOT that would discuss the following: the public’s and local public service officers’ roles in addressing blocked crossings; the role that technology and positive train control can play in identifying blocked crossings; and the use and application of data collected on blocked crossings; among other issues There are also provisions on grants promoting rail crossing safety.

A number of Congressional leaders have been grappling over how to handle blocked crossings in light of longer freight trains. In February, the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure held a hearing addressing the issue of blocked crossings, and in March, Rep. Dan Lipinski (D-Illinois) introduced a bill that set a time limit for blocking a grade crossing.

Last week, the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association criticized the inclusion of the blocked crossing time limit in the bill, saying that such an update would reduce network efficiency. The group also said its short line railroad members work with local communities and customers to avoid blocked crossings. 

(Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.)

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