Highway Rail Grade Crossing: Safe Clearance
On September 25, 2013, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) and Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration (PHMSA) jointly published the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing; Safe Clearance Final Rule prohibiting drivers subject to the Department of Transportation’s commercial vehicle safety rules from entering a highway-rail grade crossing unless there is enough space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping. (And, in any case, drivers should never enter and drive through a crossing unless it is absolutely safe to do so!)
The prohibition is included in Part 392 of FMCSA’s Federal Motor Carrier Safety Regulations and Part 174 of PHMSA’s Hazardous Materials Regulations. The new Federal prohibition is intended to improve safety and includes significant consequences for violations, and disqualification of CDL holders who are convicted of violating State traffic laws prohibiting this unsafe driving behavior.
Violating the new FMCSA rail crossing rule can result in Federal civil penalties of up to $2,750 for drivers and up to $11,000 for employers who allow or require drivers to operate CMVs onto a rail crossing without having enough room to clear the tracks completely without stopping.
CDL holders convicted of violating State traffic laws concerning the failure to have sufficient space to clear the tracks completely without stopping must be disqualified for at least:
- 60 days for a first offense
- 120 days for the second offense in a 3-year period, and Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook - Third Edition
- 1 year for a third offense in a 3-year period.
Compliance Assistance Tools to Help Freight and Passenger Carriers and Drivers Comply with the Rule
The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has developed a Rail Crossing Locator application (app) that allows users to access the highway-rail grade crossing database and map features on an iPhone or iPad using a free App available through Apple’s App Store.
FRA’s Rail Crossing Locator app works by prompting users to enter a specific location, which then allows them to locate highway-rail grade crossings in their area and retrieve important information, such as the physical characteristics of a crossing and the type of traffic control devices used. The app also allows users to report information about grade crossings to the FRA to ensure the most accurate and up-to-date information is available.
Federal Highway Administration Information and Assistance for States That Have Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Projects
As part of the process leading up to the rule prohibiting commercial motor vehicle drivers from entering railroad-highway grade crossings unless there is enough space to clear the crossing without stopping, FMCSA received feedback from several States about the challenges of putting into place long-term solutions to improving the crossings. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has useful information and a program to help the States with some of these challenges.
FHWA published the "Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook - Third Edition" to provide a single reference document on prevalent and best practices as well as adopted standards relative to highway-rail grade crossings. The handbook provides general information on highway-rail crossings; characteristics of the crossing environment and users; and 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 grade crossings. The guidelines and alternative improvements presented in this handbook are primarily those that have proven effective and are accepted nationwide.
Railway-Highways Crossing (Section 130) Program
The Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) continued the $220 million annual set-aside under 23 USC 130 (Section 130). The funds are set-aside from the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) apportionment. The program provides funds for the elimination of hazards at railway-highway crossings. The funds are apportioned to States by formula.
Section 130 program funds are eligible for projects at all public crossings including roadways, bike trails and pedestrian paths. Fifty percent of a State’s apportionment is dedicated for the installation of protective devices at crossings. The remainder of the funds apportionment can be used for any hazard elimination project, including protective devices. In accordance with 23 USC 130(i), the funds can be used as incentive payments for local agencies to close public crossings provided there are matching funds from the railroad. Also, in accordance with 23 USC 130(h), the funds can be used for local agencies to provide matching funds for State-funded projects.
Typically Section 130 projects are funded at a 90% federal share, however certain projects under 23 USC 120(c)(1) allow for up to a 100% federal share. These include the closure of a grade crossing and the installation of traffic signs and signals. For more information visit the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Railway-Highways Crossing (Section 130) Program site.