Road Management & Engineering Journal
Road Management & Engineering Journal
December, 1999
TranSafety, Inc.
(360) 683-6276
Fax: (360) 335-6402

RR Grade Crossing Fatalities Prompt ITS Project

(This article is reproduced, with permission, from the Fall/Winter 1999 Edition of Minnesota Guidestar, a publication of the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Office of Advanced Transportation Systems.)

In Minnesota, as in most of North America, the number of railroad at-grade crossings with only passive signs to warn travelers far exceeds the number of crossings with active warning devices. In fact, with existing funding levels, it remains highly improbable that active gates and lights can be installed at a rate to significantly alter this fact. The vast majority of passively marked crossings are on low-volume roads with few and probably irregular trains. To provide active warning using currently adopted technologies at these crossings can cost $150,000 or more for gates and lights and $100,000 for warning lights alone.

In the first eight months of 1999, six Minnesotans died in crashes at railroad crossings of the type that will be addressed by a proposed new system. Based on research by the National Transportation Safety Board, as many as 70% of these types of accidents could be prevented with an active warning light system.

Based on the successful test with school buses in the Glencoe School District and the TC&W Railroad, Mn/DOT's Offices of Advanced Transportation Systems and Freight, Railroads, and Waterways believe it is technically feasible to develop a complete train-activated warning system that could be deployed for under $10,000 per crossing. This system would be built entirely by developing new uses for existing technologies and could be used to provide active warning at low-volume crossings that do not currently warrant gates and lights.

Mn/DOT plans to work with the private sector and the US DOT to develop safer and more financially feasible active railroad crossing warning systems. Mn/DOT is facilitating an operational test that will include flashing lights at both the cross buck and, for the first time, at the advanced warning sign. The intention is to pursue system-wide installation at low-volume crossings immediately upon the successful conclusion of the project and in conjunction with railroad implementation of FRA [Federal Railroad Administration] standards and policies that support autonomous train detection.

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