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FHWA Home / Safety / HSIP / Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook - Third Edition

Highway-Rail Crossing Handbook - Third Edition

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CHAPTER 4. PROJECT IMPLEMENTATION

Note: This document summarizes current practices but does not set standards; practitioners are advised to check current local standards and requirements (refer to Disclaimer and Quality Assurance Statement). Users of the data provided within this document should anticipate possible variations from current information within the FRA databases, which are updated monthly.

Chapter 4 discusses a high-level approach to project implementation, including how projects are programmed, potential funding sources at different levels of government, and agreements that should be considered. This chapter also discusses the design and construction of the programmed improvements, as well as traffic control measures that should be considered during construction phases.

PROGRAM DEVELOPMENT

Program development is one of the final steps in the overall process. It is the selection of the specific improvement projects (including the type of improvement to be made along with the estimated cost of such improvement) to be included in a highway-railroad crossing improvement program. This selection process is data-driven for efficiency and effectiveness. These projects are then moved forward into implementation.

A program should use an established method, consider all locations, and prioritize projects based on risk and other objective criteria. It is important for an agency to document the project selection process and method. The prioritization of a crossing for improvement can be done individually, or a corridor approach can be used. The corridor approach evaluates many crossings along a railroad line. Utilizing this method, the potential for improving the efficiency of railroad and highway operations may be considered.

The total program should include more projects than can reasonably be funded. This is to ensure that substitutions can be made in the priority list following field evaluation of the crossings by the Diagnostic Team or if other unforeseen issues arise that delay a project, another project can be advanced.

To aid in the programming of projects, a resource allocation model (as discussed in Chapter 3) has been developed to assist in making allocation decisions. The methodology, using a highway-railroad crossing crash or incident prediction formula, traffic control device system effectiveness, and cost parameters, provides a funding priority ranking of projects. On the State and local levels, it can be used to prioritize crossing projects and options through a data-driven process.

It should be emphasized that, in the use of ranking procedures (for example, hazard indices or resource allocation), the quantitative ranking does not dictate the final decision. These tools should be considered only as an aid to State and local officials and railroad management for making decisions. Local conditions and the judgment of State and local officials should also play a role in this evaluation process.

FUNDING

Sources of funds for highway-rail grade crossing improvements include federal, State, and local government agencies, and the railroad industry to a lesser extent. Additional information regarding funding sources and their history and legacies can be found in Appendix A, Section 2.

Federal Sources

Federal program sources of funding have grown and adapted over the years. This section will briefly discuss some of the more impactful funding sources that have been available in recent years and their importance. It is important to note that most federal-aid funding programs are State administered.

Highway Safety Improvement Program

The Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) is a core federal-aid Highway program with the purpose to achieve a significant reduction in traffic fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads, including non-State-owned roads and roads on tribal land. The HSIP requires a data-driven, strategic approach to improving highway safety on all public roads with a focus on performance.(49) The HSIP is legislated under Section 148 of Title 23, United States Code (23 U.S.C. 148) and regulated under Part 924 of Title 23, Code of Federal Regulations (23 CFR 924). The HSIP consists of three main components, the Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP), State HSIP or program of Highway Safety Improvement Projects and the Railway-Highway Crossing Program (RHCP). The RHCP is legislated under Section 130 of Title of the United States Code (23 U.S.C. 130), with funding allocated to States as a set-aside of the HSIP.

Section 130

The RHCP provides funds for the elimination of hazards at railway-highway crossings. Program requirements and eligibility information can be found on the FHWA Office of Safety website at https:// safety.fhwa.dot.gov/hsip/xings/. The Section 130 Program has been correlated with a significant decrease in fatalities at railway-highway grade crossings. Since RHCP's establishment in 1987 through 2017, for which most recent data is available, fatalities at these crossings have decreased by approximately 56 percent according to FRA data.(50) The overall reduction in fatalities comes despite an increase in the vehicle miles traveled on roadways and an increase in the passenger and freight traffic on the railways.

The 2015 Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act, PL 114-94) continues the annual set-aside for railway-highway crossing improvements under 23 U.S.C. 130(e).(51) The funds are set-aside from a State's Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) apportionment by a legislative formula and allocated to States, who administer the Federal-aid Highway Program with federal oversight. The FAST Act increased the set-aside amount for each fiscal year as shown. In addition, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2016 (Public Law 114-113) provided a one-time increase for fiscal year 2016.

Other federal-aid highway funds may be used for improvements at crossings, depending upon the specific program eligibility guidelines. For example, HSIP funds other than Section 130 funds may be eligible for rail crossing safety improvements if a State has determined a need through its data-driven SHSP. Surface Transportation Block Grant Program funds may be another federal-aid highway funding source. See Appendix A for more information on federal-aid crossings improvement programs.

Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements Program (CRISI)

The FRA periodically provides grant funding for rail improvements which may be used to pay for crossing elimination and improvements. This program provides a comprehensive solution to leverage private, State and local investments to support safety enhancements and general improvements to infrastructure for both intercity passenger and freight railroads. Congress authorized this grant program for the Secretary to invest in a wide range of projects within the United States to improve railroad safety, efficiency, and reliability; mitigate congestion at both intercity passenger and freight rail chokepoints; enhance multi-modal connections; and lead to new or substantially improved Intercity Passenger Rail Transportation corridors. Additionally, the program includes rail safety projects, such as grade crossing enhancements, and rail line relocations and improvements. Applicable work also includes the following: rail regional and corridor planning, environmental analyses and research, workforce development, and training.

In 2018, the FRA issued a Notice of Funding Opportunity for the CRISI Program that includes more than $318 million in grant funding authorized under the FAST Act. The CRISI grant program directs at least 25 percent of available funds towards rural communities to safely connect and upgrade rural America's rail infrastructure.

In addition, selection preference is given to projects with a 50 percent non-federal funding match from any combination of private, State, or local funds. The USDOT will consider how well the project aligns with key objectives including supporting economic vitality; leveraging federal funding; preparing for life-cycle costs; using innovative approaches to improve safety and expedite project delivery; and holding grant recipients accountable for achieving specific, measurable outcomes.

Additional requirements that may pertain to the use of federal-aid funds are as follows:

Additional information can be found at the following websites:

State Funding

Section 130 RHCP funds are allocated by legislative formula to States who administer the Federal-aid Highway Program under federal oversight. Historically, States also have participated in funding highway-rail crossing improvement projects through fuel taxes and other sources. Additionally, States sometimes finance entire crossing projects, particularly if the crossing is on a State highway, or a State may set aside a designated amount of State funds for specific work as a sub-program such as crossing surface improvements.

In general, for crossings on the State highway system, States provide for the maintenance of the highway approach and for traffic control devices not located on the railroad ROW. Typically, these include advance warning signs and pavement markings.

Local Agency Funding

Cities and counties can establish highway-rail crossing improvement programs in their local agencies. These types of programs can provide funding for partial reimbursement of railroad maintenance costs at crossings, or can meet the matching requirements of State and federal programs. Local agencies are often sources of funding for low-cost improvements such as removing vegetation and providing illumination. In addition, local agencies are responsible for maintaining the roadway approaches and the traffic control devices off the railroad ROW on highways under their maintenance jurisdiction.

Railroad Funding

Railroads often volunteer to participate if they receive some benefit from the project. For example, if a project includes the closure of one or more crossings, the railroad may benefit from reduced maintenance costs. Railroads also may assist in low-cost improvements such as changes in railroad operations, track improvements, ROW clearance, and others.

AGREEMENTS

A highway-rail crossing project involves a minimum of two parties: the State and the railroad. If the crossing is not on the State highway system, an agreement with the county or municipality having maintenance and enforcement jurisdiction over the road will usually be required. The agreement between the State agency and the railroad should establish the project location, scope of work, standards to be applied, basis of payment, and billing procedures. The agreement between the State and the local jurisdiction should do the following:

Current practice is to define project responsibilities of the highway authority and the railroad in construction and maintenance (C&M) agreements developed prior to initiation of final design and construction of improvements. The C&M agreements can include provisions regarding right of entry and railroad flagging.

The FHWA provides a variety of resources and tools that encompass strategies to help railroads and DOT's mitigate the responsibilities between the two agencies. The publication Strategies for Improving the Project Agreement Process Between Highway Agencies and Railroads is comprised of model documents that can be used as a resource for both agencies to help expedite negotiations.(54)

DESIGN AND CONSTRUCTION

The design of highway-rail crossing improvement projects is usually completed by the State or engineering consultant selected by the State (per FHWA federal-aid requirements for consultant selection) where federal and State funds are to be used or by the local roadway authority or its engineering consultant when local funds are to be used.

The railroad signal department usually prepares the design for the active traffic control system, including the train detection circuits. In addition, the railroad signal department usually prepares a detailed cost estimate of the work.

Adequate provision for needed easements, rights of way, temporary crossings for construction purposes, or other property interests should be included in the project design and covered in the agreement.

TRAFFIC CONTROL DURING CONSTRUCTION

Traffic control for highway-rail crossing construction is very similar to traffic control for highway construction. The major difference is that the work area is in joint-use ROW, and the possibility of conflict exists between rail and highway traffic as well as in construction operations. Construction areas can present unexpected or unusual situations to the motorist as far as traffic operations are concerned. Because of this, special care should be taken in applying traffic control techniques in these areas.

Temporary Traffic Control (TTC), as found in Part 6 of the MUTCD, discusses the importance of each mode of transportation and road user in relation to highway construction, utility work, maintenance operations, and the management of traffic incidents. Additional information regarding the requirement for a Traffic Management Plan for significant projects and TTC for non-significant projects can be found in Subpart J and K of the Work Zone Management Program's Work Zone Safety and Mobility Rule (Subpart J) and the Temporary Traffic Control Devices Rule (Subpart K) (website: https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/wz/resources/policy.htm).

Traffic safety in construction zones should be an integral and high-priority element of every project, from planning through design and construction. The TTC planning is important to provide continuity for the movements of all modes and highway-users during periods when the normal function of the roadway is suspended. Providing for the safe and effective movement of highway-users as they travel through or around a TTC zone, while also focusing on the safety of workers and first responders, is a key function of TTC. The basic safety principles governing the design of crossings should also govern the design of construction and maintenance sites. The goal should be to route traffic through such areas with geometries and traffic control devices comparable, as possible, to those for normal crossing situations.

A traffic control plan in detail appropriate to the complexity of the work project should be prepared and understood by all responsible parties before the site is occupied. If traffic flow will be impacted or the roadway will be closed, advance notification to the public should be provided to the public through news releases, social media, and other means as needed. Information on the length and times of closure or impact as well as established detour information should also be provided.

When planning construction or maintenance work at highway-rail crossings, proper coordination with the railroad is essential. The safety of road users, highway and railroad work crews, and train crews can best be provided through the development of a work plan to meet the needs of rail and highway traffic.

Traffic Control Zones

When traffic is affected by construction, maintenance, utility, or similar operations, traffic control is needed to safely guide and protect road users and workers in a traffic control zone. The traffic control zone is the distance between the first advance warning sign and the point beyond the work area where traffic is no longer affected. Temporary traffic control should be developed and/ or reviewed by the road authority, not the railroad.

Traffic Control Devices

Signs. Regulatory and warning signs are used in construction work areas. Regulatory signs impose legal restrictions and may not be used without permission from the authority having jurisdiction over the highway. Warning signs are used to give notice of conditions that are potentially hazardous to traffic.

Delineators. Delineators are reflective units with a minimum dimension of approximately 3 inches. Delineators should not be used alone as channelizing devices in work zones but may be used to supplement these channelizing devices in outlining the correct vehicle path. They are not to be used as a warning device. To be effective, several delineators need to be seen at the same time. The color of the delineator should be the same as the pavement marking that it supplements.

Pavement markings. Pavement markings, in conjunction with delineators, outline the vehicular path and, thus, guide the motorist through the construction area. Pavement markings include longitudinal markings such as center lines, edge lines and lane lines, as well as word, symbol and arrow markings.

Channelizing devices. Channelizing devices consist of cones, tubular markers, vertical panels, drums, barricades, and barriers (refer to MUTCD Figure 6F-7). These types of devices are used to maintain traffic through work zones.

Lighting devices. Three types of warning lights may be used in construction areas. Flashing-lights are appropriate for use on a channelizing device to warn of an isolated hazard at night or call attention to warning signs at night. High-intensity lights are appropriate to use on advance warning lights during day and night. Steady-burn lights are appropriate for use on a series of channelizing devices or on barriers that either form the taper to close a lane or shoulder, or keep a section of lane or shoulder closed, and are also appropriate on the channelizing devices alongside the work area at night.

Flagging. Flagging of the highway should be used only when required to control traffic or when all other methods of traffic control are inadequate to warn and direct drivers. The procedures for flagging traffic are contained in MUTCD Chapter 6E. It should be noted that construction activity within the railroad right-of-way will require railroad flagging. The industry standard is that the operating railroad will provide flaggers with the appropriate safety certifications. Availability of railroad flaggers is limited and construction activities need to be carefully coordinated with the railroad which controls the scheduling of qualified flaggers.

Typical Applications

Practitioners should refer to Part 6 of the MUTCD for various "Typical Applications" of temporary traffic control, some of which could be used where a construction detour near a crossing is required. Two examples showing applications of traffic control devices in crossing work zones are shown in Figure 62 and Figure 63 for work in the vicinity of a crossing and where there is work on a side road with a crossing, respectively. The dimensions shown in these figures may be adjusted to fit field conditions in accordance with the guidelines presented in MUTCD and the Traffic Control Devices Handbook. When numerical distances are shown for sign spacing, the distances are intended for rural areas and urban areas with a posted speed limit of 45 mph or more. For urban areas with a posted speed of 45 mph or less, the sign spacing should be in conformance with Table 9.

Table 9. Recommended Advance Warning Sign Minimum Spacing

Road Type Distance Between Signsb
A B C
Urban (low speed)a 100 feet 100 feet 100 feet
Urban (high speed)a 350 feet 350 feet 350 feet
Rural 500 feet 500 feet 500 feet
Expressway/Freeway 1,000 feet 1,500 feet 2,640 feet

a Speed category to be determined by the highway agency.

b The column headings A, B, and C are the dimensions shown in Figures 6H-1 through 6H-46 (MUTCD). The A dimension is the distance from the transition or point of restriction to the first sign. The B dimension is the distance between the first and second signs. The C dimension is the distance between the second and third signs. (The "first sign" is the sign in a three-sign series that is closest to the TTC zone. The "third sign" is the sign that is furthest upstream from the TTC zone.)

Source: Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2009 Edition, Washington, DC, FHWA, 2009.

Signs with specific distances shown should not be used if the actual distance varies significantly from that shown. The word message "Ahead" should be used in urban areas and in other areas where a specific distance is not applicable. Standard crossing pavement markings are not shown in the figures for clarity but should be utilized where appropriate. All applicable requirements for traffic control in work areas set forth in MUTCD should apply to construction and maintenance of crossings. Additional traffic control devices other than those shown in the figures should be provided when highway and traffic conditions warrant. These devices should conform to the requirements of MUTCD. All traffic control devices that are not applicable at any specific time should be covered, removed, or turned to not be visible to the motorist.

Figure 62. Work in the Vicinity of a Crossing (TA-46) - This figure shows various road work signs placed on both sides of a two-way street approaching an intersecting railroad. The signs used are the same for both directions, but appear opposite on the figure. The first sign seen when a driver is diamond shaped saying ROAD WORK XX FEET to indicate road work up ahead on the road. The second sign is the same shape saying ONE LANE ROAD XX FEET. The third sign is of a graphic of a construction worker holding up a flag with an optional smaller sign attached to it stating XX feet. After these signs, there is a crosshatch and DO NOT STOP ON TRACKS sign right before the railroad. There is a 50 to 100 feet two-way traffic taper to guide traffic around the work zone. Once a driver is a good distance from the road work, there is a rectangle sign that says END ROAD WORK. Note: See Tables 6H-2 and 6H-3 for the meaning of these symbols and/or letter codes used in this figure.

Figure 62. Work in the Vicinity of a Crossing (TA-46)

Source: Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2009 Edition, Washington, DC, FHWA, 2009.

Figure 63. Crossing Work Activities, Closure of Side Road Crossing - This figure shows the various signs used for road work for a closed road alongside a railroad. The road has a type III Barricade. Cones are used in the middle of the road, along with a Flagger station to let individuals know of the road closure. There are two NO LEFT TURN signs placed on the right and the left of the ROAD CLOSED sign. There is a DETOUR sign pointing to the right underneath the ROAD CLOSED sign. Rural 500’ Urban-X and Rural 500’ Urban-Y have three different signs on the railroad to indicate roadwork up ahead, workers, and a NO RIGHT TURN sign. On the side of the road furthest away from the railroad, the Rural 500’ Urban-Y and Rural 500’ Urban-X have three different signs on the railroad. These signs indicate ROAD CONSTRUCTION AHEAD, workers, and one of the NO LEFT TURN signs that is next to the ROAD CLOSED sign.

Figure 63. Crossing Work Activities, Closure of Side Road Crossing

Source: Railroad Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, Revised Second Edition.

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Page last modified on December 4, 2019
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