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Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook - Revised Second Edition August 2007
Section 5: Selection of Alternatives Table of Contents | Previous | Next

V

Selection of Alternatives

This chapter discusses methods for selecting alternatives and the economic analysis techniques that may be utilized. Although procedures are provided for developing benefit-cost analyses of alternative treatments, more recent trends place emphasis on risk avoidance and best practices. As a result, benefit-cost studies may only be useful for evaluating alternatives that involve a major investment. Benefit-cost analysis requirements are contained in 23 CFR 924. In addition, the Rail-Highway Crossing Resource Allocation Procedure is presented and other low-cost solutions are discussed.

A. Technical Working Group Guidance on Traffic Control Devices—Selection Criteria and Procedure

The Technical Working Group (TWG) established by the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT) is led by representatives from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Federal Transit Administration, and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. This cooperation among the various representatives of TWG represents a landmark effort to enhance communication among highway agencies, railroad companies and authorities, and governmental agencies involved in developing and implementing policies, rules, and regulations.

The TWG document is intended to provide guidance to assist engineers in the selection of traffic control devices or other measures at highway-rail grade crossings.118 It is not to be interpreted as policy or standards and is not mandatory. Any requirements that may be noted in the report are taken from the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) or another document identified by footnotes. A number of measures are included that may not have been supported by quantitative research but are being used by states and local agencies. These are included to inform practitioners of the array of tools being used or explored.

The introductory materials developed by the U.S. DOT TWG present an excellent perspective on the functioning of a highway-rail grade crossing. TWG notes that a highway-rail grade crossing differs from a highway-highway intersection in that the train always has the right of way. From this perspective, TWG indicates that the process for deciding what type of highway traffic control device is to be installed or even allowing that a highway-rail grade crossing should exist is essentially a two-step process, requiring consideration of what information the vehicle driver needs to be able to cross safely and whether the resulting driver response to a traffic control device is “compatible” with the intended system operating characteristics of the highway and railroad facility.

The TWG guidance outlines the technical considerations for satisfying motorist needs, including the role of stopping sight distance, approach (corner) sight distance, and clearing sight distance, and integrates this with highway system needs based upon the type and classification of the roadway as well as the allowable track speeds by class of track for the railway system. This handbook describes tools and analytical methodologies as well as treatments and criteria from a variety of sources for selecting treatments; the TWG document and its introduction should be consulted by persons involved with studies of grade crossing safety issues and improvements.

These treatments are provided for consideration at every public highway-rail grade crossing. Specific MUTCD signs and treatments are included for easy reference.

TECHNICAL WORKING GROUP GUIDANCE

1. Minimum Devices

All highway-rail grade crossings of railroads and public streets or highways should be equipped with approved passive devices. For street-running railroads/transit systems, refer to MUTCD Parts 8 and 10.

2. Minimum Widths

All highway-rail grade crossing surfaces should be a minimum of 1 foot beyond the edge of the roadway shoulder, measured perpendicular to the roadway centerline, and should provide for any existing pedestrian facilities.

3. Passive—Minimum Traffic Control Applications

a.    A circular railroad advance warning (W10-1) sign shall be used on each roadway in advance of every highway-rail grade crossing except as described in MUTCD.

b.    An emergency phone number should be posted at the crossing, including the U.S. DOT highway-rail grade crossing identification number, highway or street name or number, railroad milepost, and other pertinent information.

c.    Where the roadway approaches to the crossing are paved, pavement markings are to be installed as described in MUTCD, subject to engineering evaluation.

d.    Where applicable, the “Tracks Out Of Service” sign should be placed to notify drivers that track use has been discontinued.

e.    One reflectorized crossbuck sign shall be used on each roadway approach to a highway-rail grade crossing.

i. If there are two or more tracks, the number of tracks shall be indicated on a supplemental sign (R15-2) of inverted T shape mounted below the crossbuck.

ii. Strips of retroreflective white material not less than 2 inches in width shall be used on the back of each blade of each crossbuck sign for the length of each blade, unless the crossbucks are mounted back to back.

iii. A strip of retroreflective white material not less than 2 inches in width shall be used on the full length of the front and back of each support from the crossbuck sign to near ground level or just above the top breakaway hole on the post.

f.    Supplemental passive traffic control applications (subject to engineering evaluation):

i. Inadequate stopping sight distance:

a.     Improve the roadway geometry.

b.     Install appropriate warning signs (including consideration of active types).

c.      Reduce the posted roadway speed in advance of the crossing:

i. Advisory signing as a minimum.

ii. Regulatory posted limit if it can be effectively enforced.

d.     Close the crossing.

e.     Reconfigure/relocate the crossing.

f.      Grade separate the crossing.

ii. Inadequate approach (corner) sight distance (assuming adequate clearing sight distance):

a.     Remove the sight distance obstruction.

b.     Install appropriate warning signs.

c.      Reduce the posted roadway speed in advance of the crossing:

i. Advisory signing as a minimum.

ii. Regulatory posted limit if it can be effectively enforced.

d.     Install a YIELD (R1-2) sign, with advance warning sign (W3-2a) where warranted by MUTCD (restricted visibility reduces safe approach speed to 16–24 kilometers per hour (10–15 miles per hour)).

e.     Install a STOP (R1-1) sign, with advance warning sign (W3-1a) where warranted by MUTCD (restricted visibility requires drivers to stop at the crossing).

f.      Install active devices.

g.     Close the crossing. h. Reconfigure/relocate the crossing. i. Grade separate the crossing.

iii. Deficient clearing sight distances (for one or more classes of vehicles):

a.     Remove the sight distance obstruction.

b.     Permanently restrict use of the roadway by the class of vehicle not having sufficient clearing sight distance.

c.      Install active devices with gates.

d.     Close the crossing.

e.     Reconfigure/relocate the crossing.

f.      Grade separate the crossing.

g.     Multiple railroad tracks and/or two or more highway approach lanes in the same direction should be evaluated with regard to possible sight obstruction from other trains (moving or standing on another track or siding) or highway vehicles.

iv. Stopping and corner sight distance deficiencies may be treated immediately with warning or regulatory traffic control signs, such as a STOP sign, with appropriate advance warning signs. However, until such time as permanent corrective measures are implemented to correct deficient clearing sight distance, interim measures should be taken, which may include:

a.     Temporarily close the crossing.

b.     Temporarily restrict use of the roadway by the classes of vehicles.

Table 42. Guidelines for Active Devices

Class of track

Maximum allowable operating speed
for freight trains—minimum active
devices

Maximum allowable operating speed
for passenger trains—minimum active
devices

Excepted track

10 mph

Flashers

N/A

N/A

Class 1 track

10 mph

Flashers

15 mph

Gates*

Class 2 track

25 mph

Flashers

30 mph

Gates*

Class 3 track

40 mph

Gates

60 mph**

Gates**

Class 4 track

60 mph

Gates

80 mph

Gates

Class 5 track

80 mph

Gates plus supplemental safety devices

90 mph

Gates plus supplemental safety devices

Class 6 track

110 mph
with conditions

Gates plus supplemental safety devices

110 mph

Gates plus supplemental safety devices

Class 7 track

125 mph
with conditions

Full barrier protection

125 mph

Full barrier protection

Class 8 track

160 mph
with conditions

Grade separation

160 mph

Grade separation

Class 9 track

200 mph
with conditions

Grade separation

200 mph

Grade separation

Note: 1 mile per hour (mph) = 1.61 kilometers per hour (km/hr.)

* Refer to the 2003 edition of MUTCD, Part 10, transit and light-rail trains in medians of city streets.

** Except 35 mph (56 km/hr.) for transit and light-rail trains.

Source: Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration, Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, November 2002.

4. Active

If active devices are selected, the following devices should be considered:

a. Active devices with automatic gates should be considered at highway-rail grade crossings whenever an engineering study by a diagnostic team determines one or more of the following conditions exist:

i. All crossings on the National Highway System, “U.S.” marked routes, or principal arterials not otherwise grade separated.

ii. If inadequate clearing sight distance exists in one or more approach quadrants, AND it is determined ALL of the following apply:

a.     It is not physically or economically feasible to correct the sight distance deficiency.

b.     An acceptable alternate access does not exist.

c.      On a life-cycle cost basis, the cost of providing acceptable alternate access or grade separation would exceed the cost of installing active devices with gates.

iii. Regularly scheduled passenger trains operate in close proximity to industrial facilities, such as stone quarries, log mills, cement plants, steel mills, oil refineries, chemical plants, and land fills.

iv. In close proximity to schools, industrial plants, or commercial areas where there is substantially higher than normal usage by school buses, heavy trucks, or trucks carrying dangerous or hazardous materials.

v. Based upon the number of passenger trains and/or the number and type of trucks, a diagnostic team determines a significantly higher than normal risk exists that a train-vehicle collision could result in death of or serious injury to rail passengers.

vi. Multiple main or running tracks through the crossing.

vii. The expected accident frequency for active devices without gates, as calculated by the U.S. DOT Accident Prediction Formula including five-year accident history, exceeds 0.1.

viii. In close proximity to a highway intersection or other highway-rail crossings and the traffic control devices at the nearby intersection cause traffic to queue on or across the tracks (in such instances, if a nearby intersection has traffic signal control, it should be interconnected to provide preempted operation, and consider traffic signal control, if none).

ix. As otherwise recommended by an engineering study or diagnostic team.

b.    Active devices with automatic gates should be considered as an option at public highway-rail grade crossings whenever they can be economically justified based on fully allocated life-cycle costs and one or more of the following conditions exist:

i. Multiple tracks exist at or in the immediate crossing vicinity where the presence of a moving or standing train on one track effectively reduces the clearing sight distance below the minimum relative to a train approaching the crossing on an adjacent track (absent some other acceptable means of warning drivers to be alert for the possibility of a second train).

ii. An average of 20 or more trains per day.

iii. Posted highway speed exceeds 64 km/hr. (40 mph) in urban areas or exceeds 88 km/hr. (55 mph) in rural areas.

iv. Annual average daily traffic (AADT) exceeds 2,000 in urban areas or 500 in rural areas.

v. Multiple lanes of traffic in the same direction of travel (usually this will include cantilevered signals).

vi. The crossing exposure (the product of the number of trains per day and AADT) exceeds 5,000 in urban areas or 4,000 in rural areas.

vii. The expected accident frequency as calculated by the U.S. DOT Accident Prediction formula, including five-year accident history, exceeds 0.075.

viii. An engineering study indicates that the absence of active devices would result in the highway facility performing at a level of service below level C.

ix. Any new project or installation of active devices to significantly replace or upgrade existing non-gated active devices. For purposes of this item, replacements or upgrades should be considered “significant” whenever the cost of the otherwise intended improvement (without gates) equals or exceeds one-half the cost of a comparable new installation, and should exclude maintenance replacement of individual system components and/or emergency replacement of damaged units.

x. As otherwise recommended by an engineering study or diagnostic team.

c.    Warning/barrier gate systems should be considered as supplemental safety devices at:

i.     Crossings with passenger trains;

ii.    Crossings with high-speed trains;

iii.   Crossings in quiet zones; or

iv.    As otherwise recommended by an engineering study or diagnostic team.

d.   Enhancements for pedestrian treatments:

i. Design to avoid stranding pedestrians between sets of tracks.

ii. Add audible devices, based on an engineering study.

iii. Consider swing gates carefully; the operation of the swing gate should be consistent with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act; the gate should be checked for pedestrian safety within the limits of its operation.

iv. Provide for crossing control at pedestrian crossings where a station is located within the proximity of a crossing or within the crossing approach track circuit for the highway-rail crossing.

v. Utilize a Train-to-Wayside Controller to reduce traffic delays in areas of stations.

vi. Delay the activation of the gates, flashers, and bells for a period of time at the highway-rail grade crossing in station areas, based on an engineering study.

5. Closure

Highway-rail grade crossings should be considered for closure and vacated across the railroad right of way whenever one or more of the following apply:

a.    An engineering study determines a nearby crossing otherwise required to be improved or grade separated already has acceptable alternate vehicular access, and pedestrian access can continue at the subject crossing, if existing.

b.    On a life-cycle cost basis, the cost of implementing the recommended improvement would exceed the cost of providing an acceptable alternate access.

c.    If an engineering study determines any of the following apply:

i. FRA Class 1, 2, or 3 track with daily train movements:

a.     AADT less than 500 in urban areas, acceptable alternate access across the rail line exists within .4 km (one-quarter-mile), and the median trip length normally made over the subject crossing would not increase by more than .8 km (one-half-mile).

b.     AADT less than 50 in rural areas, acceptable alternate access across the rail line exists within .8 km (one-half-mile), and the median trip length normally made over the subject crossing would not increase by more than 2.4 km (1.5 miles).

ii. FRA Class 4 or 5 track with active rail traffic:

a.     AADT less than 1,000 in urban areas, acceptable alternate access across the rail line exists within .4 km (one-quarter-mile), and the median trip length normally made over the subject crossing would not increase by more than 1.2 km (three-quarters-mile).

b.     AADT less than 100 in rural areas, acceptable alternate access across the rail line exists within 1.61 km (1 mile), and the median trip length normally made over the subject crossing would not increase by more than 4.8 km (3 miles).

iii. FRA Class 6 or higher track with active rail traffic, AADT less than 250 in rural areas, an acceptable alternate access across the rail line exists within 2.4 km (1.5 miles), and the median trip length normally made over the subject crossing would not increase by more than 6.4 km (4 miles).

d.   An engineering study determines the crossing should be closed to vehicular and pedestrian traffic when railroad operations will occupy or block the crossing for extended periods of time on a routine basis and it is determined that it is not physically or economically feasible to either construct a grade separation or shift the train operation to another location. Such locations would typically include:

i. Rail yards.

ii. Passing tracks primarily used for holding trains while waiting to meet or be passed by other trains.

iii. locations where train crews are routinely required to stop their trains because of cross traffic on intersecting rail lines or to pick up or set out blocks of cars or switch local industries en route.

iv. switching leads at the ends of classification yards.

v. where trains are required to “double” in or out of yards and terminals.

vi. in the proximity of stations where long distance passenger trains are required to make extended stops to transfer baggage, pick up, or set out equipment or be serviced en route.

vii. locations where trains must stop or wait for crew changes.

6. Grade Separation

a.    Highway-rail grade crossings should be considered for grade separation or otherwise eliminated across the railroad right of way whenever one or more of the following conditions exist:

i. The highway is a part of the designated Interstate Highway System.

ii. The highway is otherwise designed to have full controlled access.

iii. The posted highway speed equals or exceeds 113 km/hr. (70 mph).

iv. AADT exceeds 100,000 in urban areas or 50,000 in rural areas.

v. Maximum authorized train speed exceeds 177 km/hr. (110 mph).

vi. An average of 150 or more trains per day or 300 million gross tons per year.

vii. An average of 75 or more passenger trains per day in urban areas or 30 or more passenger trains per day in rural areas.

viii. Crossing exposure (the product of the number of trains per day and AADT) exceeds 1 million in urban areas or 250,000 in rural areas; or

ix. Passenger train crossing exposure (the product of the number of passenger trains per day and AADT) exceeds 800,000 in urban areas or 200,000 in rural areas.

x. The expected accident frequency for active devices with gates, as calculated by the U.S. DOT Accident Prediction Formula including five-year accident history, exceeds 0.5.

xi. Vehicle delay exceeds 40 vehicle hours per day.1

b.    Highway-rail grade crossings should be considered for grade separation across the railroad right of way whenever the cost of grade separation can be economically justified based on fully allocated life-cycle costs and one or more of the following conditions exist:

i. The highway is a part of the designated National Highway System.

ii. The highway is otherwise designed to have partial controlled access.

iii. The posted highway speed exceeds 88 km/hr. (55 mph).

iv. AADT exceeds 50,000 in urban areas or 25,000 in rural areas.

v. Maximum authorized train speed exceeds 161 km/hr. (100 mph).

vi. An average of 75 or more trains per day or 150 million gross tons per year.

vii. An average of 50 or more passenger trains per day in urban areas or 12 or more passenger trains per day in rural areas.

viii. Crossing exposure (the product of the number of trains per day and AADT) exceeds 500,000 in urban areas or 125,000 in rural areas; or

ix. Passenger train crossing exposure (the product of the number of passenger trains per day and AADT) exceeds 400,000 in urban areas or 100,000 in rural areas.

x. The expected accident frequency for active devices with gates, as calculated by the U.S. DOT Accident Prediction Formula including five-year accident history, exceeds 0.2.

xi. Vehicle delay exceeds 30 vehicle hours per day.

xii. An engineering study indicates that the absence of a grade separation structure would result in the highway facility performing at a level of service below its intended minimum design level 10 percent or more of the time.

c.    Whenever a new grade separation is constructed, whether replacing an existing highway-rail grade crossing or otherwise, consideration should be given to the possibility of closing one or more adjacent grade crossings.

d.   Utilize Table 43 for LRT grade separation:

Table 43. LRT Grade Separation

Trains per hour

Peak-hour volume
(vehicles per lane)

40

900

30

1000

20

1100

10

1180

5

1200

Source: Light Rail Transit Grade Separation Guidelines, An Informational Report. Washington, DC: Institute of Transportation Engineers, Technical Committee 6A-42, March 1992.

7. New Crossings

a.    Should only be permitted to cross existing railroad tracks at grade when it can be demonstrated:

i. For new public highways or streets where there is a clear and compelling public need (other than enhancing the value or development potential of the adjoining property);

ii. Grade separation cannot be economically justified, i.e. benefit-to-cost ratio on a fully allocated cost basis is less than 1.0 (generally, when the crossing exposure exceeds 50,000 in urban areas or exceeds 25,000 in rural areas); and

iii. There are no other viable alternatives.

b.    If a crossing is permitted, the following conditions should apply:

i. If it is a main track, the crossing will be equipped with active devices with gates.

ii. The plans and specifications should be subject to the approval of the highway agency having jurisdiction over the roadway (if other than a state agency), the state department of transportation or other state agency vested with the authority to approve new crossings, and the operating railroad.

iii. All costs associated with the construction of the new crossing should be borne by the party or parties requesting the new crossing, including providing financially for the ongoing maintenance of the crossing surface and traffic control devices where no crossing closures are included in the project.

iv. Whenever new public highway-rail crossings are permitted, they should fully comply with all applicable provisions of this proposed recommended practice.

v. Whenever a new highway-rail crossing is constructed, consideration should be given to closing one or more adjacent crossings.

8. Traffic Control Device Selection Procedure

Step 1—Minimum highway-rail grade crossing criteria (see report for full description):

a.    Gather preliminary crossing data:

i. Highway:

a.     Geometric (number of approach lanes, alignment, median).

b.     AADT.

c.      Speed (posted limit or operating).

d.     Functional classification.

e.     Desired level of service.

f.      Proximity of other intersections (note active device interconnection).

g.     Availability and proximity of alternate routes and/or crossings.

ii. Railroad:

a.     Number of tracks (type: FRA classification, mainline, siding, spur).

b.     Number of trains (passenger, freight, other).

c.      Maximum train speed and variability.

d.     Proximity of rail yards, stations, and terminals.

e.     Crossing signal control circuitry.

iii. Traffic control device:

a.     Passive or active.

b.     Advance.

c.      At crossing.

d.     Supplemental.

i v. Prior collision history

b.    Based on one or more of the above, determine whether any of the recommended thresholds for closure, installing active devices (if passive), or separation have been met based on highway or rail system operational requirements.

c.    Consider crossing closure or consolidation:

i. If acceptable alternate route(s) is/are available; or

ii. If an adjacent crossing is improved, can this crossing be closed? or

iii. If this crossing is improved, can an adjacent crossing be closed?

d.   For all crossings, evaluate stopping and clearing sight distances. If the conditions are inadequate for the existing control device, correct or compensate for the condition (see Step 3 below).

e.    If a passive crossing, evaluate corner sight distance. If less than the required for the posted or legal approach speed, correct or compensate for the condition (see Step 3 below).

Step 2—Evaluate highway traffic flow characteristics:

a. Consider the required motorist response to the existing (or proposed) type of traffic control device. At passive crossings, determine the degree to which traffic may need to slow or stop based on evaluation of available corner sight distances.

b. Determine whether the existing (or proposed) type of traffic control device and railroad operations will allow highway traffic to perform at an acceptable level of service for the functional classification of the highway.

Step 3—Possible revision to the highway-rail grade crossing:

a.    If there is inadequate sight distance related to the type of control device, consider measures such as:

i. Try to correct the sight distance limitation.

ii. If stopping sight distance is less than “ideal” for the posted or operating vehicle approach speed and cannot be corrected, determine the safe approach speed and consider either posting an advisory speed plate at the advance warning sign or reduce the regulatory speed limit on the approach.

iii. If corner sight distance is inadequate and cannot be corrected, determine the safe approach speed and consider posting an advisory speed plate at the advance warning sign, or reduce the regulatory speed limit on the approach, or install STOP or YIELD signs at the crossing.

iv. If clearing sight distance is inadequate, upgrade a passive or flashing light-only traffic control device to active with gates, or close (consolidate) the crossing, or grade separate.

b.    If highway and/or train volumes and/or speeds will not allow the highway to perform at an acceptable level of service, consider traffic control device upgrade to active (possibly with additional devices such as gates and medians), or closure (consolidation), or separation.

c.    If crossing closure or consolidation is being considered, determine the feasibility and cost of providing of an acceptable alternate route and compare this to the feasibility and cost of improving the existing crossing.

d.    If grade separation is being considered:

i. Economic analysis should consider fully allocated life-cycle costs.

ii. Consider highway classification and level of service.

iii. Consider the possibility of closing one or more adjacent grade crossings.

Step 4—Interim measures and/or documentation:

a.      If the above analysis indicates a change or improvement in the crossing or type of traffic control devices, determine what, if any, interim measures can or should be taken until such time as recommended improvement can be implemented.

b.      If the above analysis indicates a change or improvement in the crossing or type of traffic control devices, but there are other compelling reasons or circumstances for not implementing them, document the reasons and circumstances for your decision.

c.      If the above analysis indicates no change or improvement in the crossing or type of traffic control devices, document the fact that the crossing was evaluated and determined to be adequate.2

1 Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, November 2002.

2 Ibid.

B. Guidance on STOP and YIELD Signs

The National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (NCUTCD) has recommended revising MUTCD to mandate the use of YIELD signs at passive crossings except when STOP signs are determined appropriate by engineering study or engineering judgment. NCUTCD's recommendation is based on National Cooperative Highway Research Program Report 470, Traffic-Control Devices for Passive Railroad-Highway Grade Crossings. FHWA will consider proposing changes regarding the use of YIELD or STOP signs at passive grade crossings in the next edition of MUTCD. FHWA issued a guidance memo on March 17, 2006, which provided installation details and further instructs FHWA field personnel to work with local authorities to implement the use of YIELD signs (or STOP signs, where appropriate) at passive grade crossings.

It is recommended that YIELD signs be considered the default choice for traffic control at a passive crossing unless an engineering study or judgment determines that a STOP sign is appropriate. A STOP sign establishes a legal requirement for each and every vehicle to come to a full stop. Indiscriminate use of the STOP sign at all or many passive grade crossings can cause poor compliance, increasing the risk of collisions associated with a high non-compliance rate.

Therefore, the use of STOP signs at passive crossings should be limited to unusual conditions, where requiring all vehicles to make a full stop is deemed essential by engineering study or judgment. The engineering study or engineering judgment should consider:

•    The line of sight from an approaching highway vehicle to an approaching train.

•    Characteristics of the highway, such as the functional classification, geometric conditions, and traffic volumes and speed.

•    Characteristics of the railroad, including but not limited to frequency, type, speed of trains, and number of tracks.

•    Crossing crash history.

•    Need for active control devices.

It should be noted that certain commercial motor vehicles and school buses are required to stop at all highway-rail grade crossings, in accordance with 49 CFR 392.10, even if a YIELD sign or just a crossbuck sign is posted.

C. Canadian Research on Cost Effectiveness

Canadian research includes evaluation of the tradeoffs between benefits and costs and takes into consideration the human factors in relation to effectiveness, as shown in Table 44.

D. Economic Analysis Procedures

An economic analysis may be performed to determine the possible alternative improvements that could be made at a highway-rail grade crossing. These procedures involve estimates of expected project costs and safety and operational benefits for each alternative. Much of the following discussion is adapted from the methodology presented in the Highway Safety Improvement Program User's Manual.

Initially, information on the following elements must be established, using the best available facts and estimates:

•    Collision costs.

•    Interest rates.

•    Service life.

•    Initial improvement costs.

•    Maintenance costs.

•    Salvage value.

•    Traffic growth rates.

Other considerations include the effectiveness of the improvement in reducing collisions and the effects on travel, such as reducing delays.

Cost information is not always readily available. Therefore, some states are reluctant to impute a dollar cost to human life or personal injury. Considerable care must be used in establishing values for these costs.

The selection of collision cost values is of major importance in economic analyses. The two most common sources of collision costs are:

•    National Safety Council (NSC).

•    National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

NSC costs include wage losses, medical expenses, insurance administrative costs, and property damage. NHTSA includes the calculable costs associated with each fatality and injury plus the cost to society, such as consumption losses of individuals and society at large caused by losses in production and the inability to produce. Many states have developed their own values, which reflect their situation and philosophy. Whichever is selected, the values ought to be consistent with those used for other safety improvement programs.

Table 44. Countermeasure Type, Effectiveness, and Cost

Countermeasure

Effectiveness

Cost

STOP signs at passive crossings

Unknown

$1,200 to $2,000

Intersection lighting

52-percent reduction in nighttime collisions over no lighting

Unknown

Flashing lights

64-percent reduction in collisions over crossbucks alone

84-percent reduction in injuries over crossbucks

83-percent reduction in deaths over crossbucks

$20,000 to $30,000 in 1988

Lights and gates (two) with flashing lights

88-percent reduction in collisions over crossbucks alone

93-percent reduction in injuries over crossbucks

100-percent reduction in deaths over crossbucks

44-percent reduction in collisions over flashing lights alone

$150,000

Median barriers

80-percent reduction in violations over two-gate system

$10,000

Long arm gates (three-quarters of roadway covered)

67 to 84–percent reduction in violations over two-gate system

Unknown

Four-quadrant gate system

82-percent reduction in violations over two-gate system

$125,000 from

standard gates

$250,000 from passive

crossing

Four-quadrant gate system with median barriers

92-percent reduction in violations over two-gate system

$135,000

Crossing closure

100-percent reduction in violations, collisions, injuries, deaths

$15,000

Photo/video enforcement

34 to 94–percent reduction in violations

$40,000 to $70,000 per installation

In-vehicle crossing safety advisory warning systems

Unknown

$5,000 to $10,000 per crossing plus $50 to $250 for a receiver

Note: The effectiveness of a countermeasure is expressed as a function of the percentage reduction in collisions and other violations over some previous treatment. Costs are expressed in U.S. dollars (approximate year 2000 amounts).1

Source: Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration, Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, November 2002.

1 “A Human Factors Analysis of Highway-Railway Grade Crossing Accidents In Canada.” Transportation Development Centre, Transport Canada, September 2002 (www.tc.gc.ca/tdc/summary/14000/14003.htm).

An appropriate interest rate is needed for most of the procedures considered. The selection of an inappropriate interest rate could result in unsuitable project costs and benefits and, thus, selection of an ineffective solution. Periods of rapid inflation and fluctuation of interest rates make the identification of an appropriate rate somewhat difficult. The standard rates used by the highway department should be selected.

The Highway Safety Improvement Program User's Manual states that the service life of an improvement should be equal to the time period that the improvement can reasonably affect collision rates. Both costs and benefits should be calculated for this time period. Hence, the service life is not necessarily the physical life of the improvement. For highway-rail grade crossings, however, it is a reasonable assumption that the improvement would be equally effective over its entire physical life. Thus, selecting the service life equal to the physical life would be appropriate. In particular, service life of signal equipment is fairly long because signals are visited by a maintainer at least once per month.

The selected service life can have a profound effect on the economic evaluation of improvement alternatives; therefore, it should be selected using the best available information.

Project costs should include initial capital costs and maintenance costs and should be considered life-cycle costs; in other words, all costs are distributed over the service life of the improvement. The installation cost elements include the following:

•    Preliminary engineering.

•    Labor.

•    Material.

•    Lease or rental of equipment.

•    Miscellaneous costs.

The maintenance costs are all costs associated with keeping the system and components in operating condition. Maintenance costs are discussed in Chapter VII.

The salvage value may be an issue when a highway is upgraded or relocated, a railroad line is abandoned, etc. Salvage value is defined as the dollar value of a project at the end of its service life and, therefore, is dependent on the service life of the project. For crossing signal improvement projects, salvage values are generally very small. Due to the characteristics of crossing signals and control equipment as well as the liability concerns that arise from deploying “secondhand” signals, it is assumed that there is zero salvage value after 10 years.

There are several accepted economic analysis methods, all of which require different inputs, assumptions, calculations, and methods and may yield different results. Several appropriate methods are described here.

1. Cost-Effectiveness Analysis

The cost-effectiveness analysis method is an adaptation of a traditional safety analysis procedure based on the calculation of the cost to achieve a given unit of effect (reduction in collisions). The significant aspects of this procedure are that it need not require the assignment of a dollar value to human injuries or fatalities and requires minimal manpower to apply.

The following steps should be performed for the cost-effectiveness technique:

1.   Determine the initial capital cost of equipment, such as flashing lights or gates, and other costs associated with project implementation.

2.   Determine the annual operating and maintenance costs for the project.

3.   Select units of effectiveness to be used in the analysis. The desired units of effectiveness may be:

•     Number of total collisions prevented.

•     Number of collisions by type prevented.

•     Number of fatalities or fatal collisions prevented.

•     Number of personal injuries or personal injury collisions prevented.

•     Number of equivalent property-damage-only collisions prevented.

4.   Determine the annual benefit for the project in the selected units of effectiveness, such as total number of collisions prevented.

5.   Estimate the service life.

6.   Estimate the net salvage value.

7.   Assume an interest rate.

8.   Calculate the equivalent uniform annual costs (EUAC) or present worth of costs (PWOC).

9.   Calculate the average annual benefit, B, in the desired units of effectiveness.

10. Calculate the cost-effectiveness (C/E) value using one of the following equations:

Equation (12)

where:

CRFni = capital recovery factor for n years at interest rate i

Figure 57 shows a sample worksheet with fictitious values.

This is an iterative process for each alternative improvement. The results for all projects then can be arrayed and compared for selection. A computer program can be used for the analysis and ranking of projects.

2. Benefit-Cost Ratio

The benefit-cost ratio (B/C) is the collision savings in dollars divided by cost of the improvement. Using this method, costs and benefits may be expressed as either an equivalent annual or present worth value of the project. The B/C technique requires the following steps:

•     Determine the initial cost of implementation of the crossing improvement being studied.

•     Determine the net annual operating and maintenance costs.

•     Determine the annual safety benefits derived from the project.

•     Assign a dollar value to each safety benefit unit (NSC, NHTSA, or other).

•     Estimate the service life of the project based on patterns of historic depreciation of similar types of projects.

•     Estimate the salvage value of the project or improvement after its primary service life has ended.

•     Determine the interest rate by taking into account the time value of money.

•     Calculate the B/C ratio using EUAC and equivalent uniform annual benefits (EUAB).

•     Calculate the B/C ratio using PWOC and present worth of benefits (PWOB).

A sample worksheet with fictitious values for the B/C analysis is shown in Figure 58.

This method requires an estimate of collision severity in dollar terms, which can greatly affect the outcome. It is relatively easy to apply and is generally accepted in engineering and financial studies. As with the C/E method, the process can be performed for alternative improvements at a single crossing and arrayed for all projects to determine priorities for funding.

3. Net Annual Benefit

This method is based on the premise that the relative merit of an improvement is measured by its net annual benefit. This method is used to select improvements that will ensure maximum total benefits at each location. The net annual benefit of an improvement is defined as follows:

Net annual benefit = (EUAB) - (EUAC)                    (13)

where:

EUAB = equivalent uniform annual benefit

EUAC = equivalent uniform annual cost

A positive value for net annual benefit indicates a feasible improvement, and the improvement or set of improvements with the largest positive net annual benefit is considered the best alternative. The following steps should be used to compute the net annual benefit:

•     Estimate the initial cost, annual cost, terminal value, and service life of each improvement.

•     Estimate the benefits (in dollars) for each improvement.

•     Select an interest rate.

•     Compute EUAB.

•     Compute EUAC.

•     Calculate the net annual benefit of each improvement.

For the data and calculations shown in Figure 58, the net annual benefit would be $91,438, determined from EUAB of $104,000 less EUAC of $12,562.

Although any of the three methods is an acceptable procedure to follow for economic analyses, they might produce different results depending on the values. Table 45 illustrates this point. The values shown for the second alternative are from the example provided above. Based on the C/E method, the analyst would select the third alternative. Based on the B/C ratio method, the analyst would select the second alternative. The first alternative would be selected if the net benefit method was followed for this example.

Figure 57. Sample Cost-Effectiveness Analysis Worksheet

Figure 57. Sample Cost-Effectiveness Analysis Worksheet PDF file

Download a PDF file of Figure 57:
sec05form1.pdf

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Figure 58. Sample Benefit-to-Cost Analysis Worksheet

Figure 58. Sample Benefit-to-Cost Analysis Worksheet PDF file

Download a PDF file of Figure 58:
sec05form2.pdf

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Given that different results can occur, the agency should not follow just one procedure. At least two methods should be followed, with the decision based on these results and other factors, constraints, and policies of the agency.

Table 45. Comparison of Cost-Effectiveness, Benefit-Cost, and Net Benefit Methods

Initial Costs

Cost-Effectiveness ($/acc.)

B/C

Net Benefit

A

1,000,000

106,000

2

200,000

B

100,000

6,281

8.3

91,438

C

20,000

5,100

5

70,000

Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1986.

E. Resource Allocation Procedure

In lieu of the economic analysis procedures described above, U.S. DOT has developed a resource allocation procedure for highway-rail grade crossing improvements. This procedure was developed to assist states and railroads in determining the effective allocation of federal funds for crossing traffic control improvements.

The resource allocation model is designed to provide an initial list of crossing traffic control improvements that would result in the greatest collision reduction benefits on the basis of cost-effectiveness considerations for a given budget. As designed, the results are checked by a diagnostic team in the field and revised as necessary. It should be noted that the procedure considers only traffic control improvement alternatives as described below:

•    For passive crossings, single track, two upgrade options exist: flashing lights or gates.

•    For passive, multiple-track crossings, the model allows only the gate option to be considered in accordance with the Federal-Aid Policy Guide.

•    For flashing light crossings, the only improvement option is gates.

Other improvement alternatives, such as removal of site obstructions, crossing surface improvements, illumination, and train detection circuitry improvements, are not considered in the resource allocation procedure.

The input data required for the procedure consist of the number of predicted collisions, the safety effectiveness of flashing lights and automatic gates, improvement costs, and the amount of available funding.

The number of annual predicted collisions can be derived from the U.S. DOT Accident Prediction Model or from any model that yields the number of annual collisions per crossing. (See discussion in Chapter III.)

Safety effectiveness studies for the equipment used in the resource allocation procedure have been completed by U.S. DOT, the California Public Utilities Commission, and William J. Hedley. The resulting effectiveness factors of these studies were given in Table 40 for the types of signal improvements applicable for the procedure. Effectiveness factors are the percent reduction in collisions occurring after the implementation of the improvement.

The model requires data on the costs of the improvement alternatives. Life-cycle costs of the devices should be used, such as both installation and maintenance costs.

Costs used in the resource allocation procedure must be developed for each of the three alternatives:

•     Passive devices to flashing lights.

•     Passive devices to automatic gates.

•     Flashing lights to gates.

Caution should be exercised in developing specific costs for a few selected projects while assigning average costs to all other projects. If this is done, decisions regarding the adjusted crossings may be unreasonably biased by the algorithm.

The amount of funds available for implementing crossing signal projects is the fourth input for the resource allocation procedure.

The resource allocation procedure is shown in Figure 59. It employs a step-by-step method, using the inputs described above.

For any proposed signal improvement, a pair of parameters, Ej and Cj, must be provided for the resource allocation algorithm. As shown in Table 46, j = 1 for flashing lights installed at a passive crossing; j = 2 for gates installed at a passive crossing; and j = 3 for gates installed at a crossing with flashing lights. The first parameter, Ej, is the effectiveness of installing a proposed warning device at a crossing with a lower class warning device. The second parameter, Cj, is the corresponding cost of the proposed warning device.

Figure 59. Crossing Resource Allocation Procedure

Figure 59. Crossing Resource Allocation Procedure. This flow chart shows the relationship from an FRA Crossing Accident Date File and U.S. DOT --AAR Crossing Inventory Date File to the Accident Prediction Formula to the Resource Allocation Model (which are inputted by Warning Device Effectiveness, Warning Device Costs and Budget Level) to Recommended Decisions for Installation of Warning Devices.

Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1986.

Table 46. Effectiveness/Cost Symbol Matrix

Existing warning device

Proposed warning device

Passive

Flashing lights

Flashing lights

Effectiveness

E

1

Cost

1

Automatic gates

Effectiveness

E

2

E

3

Cost

C

2

3

Source: Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Second Edition. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, 1986.

The resource allocation procedure considers all crossings with either passive or flashing light traffic control devices for signal improvements. If, for example, a single-track passive crossing, i, is considered, it could be upgraded with either flashing lights, with an effectiveness of E1, or gates, with an effectiveness of E2. The number of predicted collisions at crossing i is Ai. Therefore, the reduced accidents per year is AiE1 for the flashing light option and AiE2 for the gate option. The corresponding costs for these two improvements are C1 and C2. The accident reduction/cost ratios for these improvements are AiE1/ C1 for flashing lights and AiE2/C2 for gates. The rate of increase in accident reduction versus costs that results from changing an initial decision to install flashing lights with a decision to install gates at crossing i is referred to as the incremental accident reduction/cost ratio and is equal to:

Ai (E2 – E1) / (C2 – C1)                                                (14)

If a passive multiple-track crossing, i, is considered, the only improvement option allowable would be installation of gates, with an effectiveness of E2, a cost of C2, and an accident reduction/cost ratio of AiE2/C2. If crossing i was originally a flashing light crossing, the only improvement option available would be installation of gates, with an effectiveness of E3, a cost of C3, and an accident reduction/cost ratio of AiE3/C3.

The individual accident reduction/cost ratios associated with these improvements are selected by the algorithm in an efficient manner to produce the maximum accident reduction that can be obtained for a predetermined total cost. This total cost is the sum of an integral number of equipment costs (C1, C2, and C). The total maximum accident reduction is the sum of the individual accident reductions of the form A E.

The resource allocation procedure is being updated to include the severity prediction equations discussed in Chapter III.

The U.S. DOT Rail-Highway Crossing Resource Allocation Procedure, as described in the Rail-Highway Crossing Resource Allocation Procedure's Guide, Third Edition (August 1987), uses three “normalizing constants” in the accident prediction formula, Formula A (Section 3.2.4, page 17). These constants need to be adjusted periodically to keep the procedure matched with current collision trends. The last recalculation and adjustment was made for calendar year 1998 and published in the Appendix for the Railroad Safety Statistics Annual Report starting for year 1999.

Using the collision data for calendar years 1997 to 2001 (to predict 2002), the process of determining the three new normalizing constants for 2003 was performed such that the sum of the 2002 accident prediction values of all currently open public at-grade crossings is made to equal the sum of the observed number of collisions that occurred for those same crossings. This process is performed for each of the respective three formulae for the three types of warning device categories: passive, flashing lights, and gates. This process normalized the calculated prediction for the current trend in collision data (downward) for each category and relative to each of the three types of warning device categories (see Table 47).

As of November 2003, these new constants are in the 2003 PC Accident Prediction System (PCAPS) computer program and the Internet version, Web Accident Prediction System (WBAPS), on the FRA Website.119 Table 47 lists the new and prior constants.

If this resource allocation procedure is used to identify high-hazard crossings, a field diagnostic team should investigate each selected crossing for accuracy of the input data and reasonableness of the recommended solution. A worksheet for accomplishing this is included in Figure 60. This worksheet also includes a method for manually evaluating or revising the results of the computer model.

Table 47. Collision Prediction and Resource Allocation Procedure Normalizing Constants

Warning device groups

New

Prior years

2003

1998

1992

1990

1988

1986

Passive

.6500

.7159

.8239

.9417

.8778

.8644

Flashing lights

.5001

.5292

.6935

.8345

.8013

.8887

Gates

.5725

.4921

.6714

.8901

.8911

.8131

Source: Federal Railroad Administration Website (safetydata.ra.dot.gov/officeofsafety).

F. Federal Railroad Administration GradeDec Software

FRA developed the GradeDec.NET (GradeDec) highway-rail grade crossing investment analysis tool to provide grade crossing investment decision support. GradeDec provides a full set of standard benefit-cost metrics for a rail corridor, a region, or an individual grade crossing. Model output allows a comparative analysis of grade crossing alternatives designed to mitigate highway-rail grade crossing collision risk and other components of user costs, including highway delay and queuing, air quality, and vehicle operating costs. The online application can be accessed via FRA's Website.120

GradeDec is intended to assist state and local transportation planners in identifying the most efficient grade crossing investment strategies. The GradeDec modeling process can encourage public support for grade crossing strategies, including closure and separation, where project success often depends on getting the community involved in the early planning stages. GradeDec computes model output using a range of values for many of the model inputs. This process allows individual stakeholders to influence how different investment options are weighed and evaluated.

GradeDec implements the corridor approach to reducing collision risk that was developed as part of the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century's Next-Generation High-Speed Rail Program. This approach can be an effective means of reducing the overall capital costs involved in constructing facilities for high-speed passenger rail service (at speeds between 111 and 125 mph), where grade crossing hazards and mitigation measures can be a major cost factor.

Figure 60. Resource Allocation Procedure Field Verification Worksheet

Figure 60. Allocation Procedure Field Verification Worksheet PDF file

Download a PDF file of Figure 60:
sec05form3.pdf

To view PDF files, you can use the Adobe® Reader®.

The corridor approach can be used to demonstrate that acceptable levels of collision risk have been reached for all rail corridors, train types, and speeds. For example, exceptions to the proposed federal rule mandating whistle-sounding at all highway-rail grade crossings can be made by showing that appropriate safety measures have been taken to mitigate the additional risk otherwise presented by trains not sounding their horns.

GradeDec uses simulation methods to analyze project risk and generate probability ranges for each model output, including B/C ratios and net present value. The software also analyzes the sensitivity of project risk to GradeDec 2000 model inputs to inform users which factors have the greatest impact on project risk.121

G. References

The Effectiveness of Automatic Protection in Reducing Accident Frequency and Severity at Public Grade Crossings in California. San Francisco, California: California Public Utilities Commission, June 1974.

Guidance on Traffic Control Devices At Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: FHWA, Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, 2002.

Highway Safety Improvement Program User's Manual. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA).

Hitz, John and Mary Cross. Rail-Highway Crossing Resource Allocation Procedure User's Guide. Washington, DC: FHWA and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), Report FHWA-IP-82-7, December 1982.

Morrissey, J. The Effectiveness of Flashing Lights and Flashing Lights with Gates in Reducing Accident Frequency at Public Rail-Highway Crossings, 1975-1978. Washington, DC: FRA and FHWA, April 1980.

Footnotes

118 Guidance on Traffic Control Devices at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings. Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Highway/Rail Grade Crossing Technical Working Group, November 2002.

119  Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Website (safetydata.fra.dot.gov/officeofsafety).

120  FRA Website (gradedec.fra.dot.gov).

121 FRA GradeDec 2000 program for evaluating costs/benefits of railroad-highway grade crossing investments (www.fra.dot.gov/us/content/1195).

 

 


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