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FHWA Home / Safety / HSIP / Railway-Highways Crossings (Section 130) Program

Highway-Railway Grade Crossing Action Plan and Project Prioritization Noteworthy Practices


Chapter 1. Introduction and Background



Development of State highway-railway grade crossing action plans (State action plans (SAP)) was initially required by Section 202 of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 (RSIA08), Public Law 110-432, Division A, for the 10 States identified with the highest number of highway-railway grade crossing collisions over a specific 3-year period (calendar years 2006, 2007, and 2008) as outlined in the statute. This requirement was later codified in 49 Code of Federal Regulations 234.11, and procedures for completing SAPs were determined through an official rulemaking process, which concluded on June 28, 2010.

The 10 States identified for compliance with the development of SAPs based on calendar years 2006 through 2008 crash data were Alabama, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Ohio, and Texas. Each of these States was required to complete a SAP that:

In completing this process to comply with RSIA08, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) identified the potential value of other States developing SAPs to address highway-railway grade crossing safety issues. The primary objective of this study is to develop a model SAP outlining best practices from the existing plans and other noteworthy practices that could be included in the model SAP for use by State departments of transportation (DOTs), local agencies (e.g., cities, counties, towns, and tribal governments), and railroad companies.

Developmental History

The requirement in RSIA08 for States to develop SAPs followed a June 2004 U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) report, which found that several States had high numbers of grade crossing collisions at the same locations. In 2006, the Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LA DOTD) completed a pilot Highway-Railway Grade Crossing Action Plan with the assistance of FHWA and FRA, which modeled the potential format and contents for other States to follow in developing such plans. As a result of the efforts with LA DOTD, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) soon began to develop its action plan in early 2007. After passage of RSIA08 and completion of the rulemaking process in 2010, the 10 designated States began to work on specific action plans based upon the observed collision conditions in their State. Because each State and specific site had varying conditions and crash causes, each State varied in its approach to developing the SAP.

National Transportation Safety Board Recommendation

In its January 28, 2013, report regarding a June 24, 2011, railroad grade-crossing collision in Miriam, Nevada, shown in Figure 1, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) recommended that FHWA and FRA (Recommendations H-12-60 and H-12-61) develop a model grade crossing action plan that can be used as a resource document by all States interested in producing an action plan similar to those required for the 10 States in RSIA08. In this particular crash, a truck traveling north on US 95 struck an Amtrak passenger train, killing the truck driver, train conductor, and four train passengers. The NTSB recommendation suggested that a model plan would incorporate available information from USDOT and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), as well as best practices and lessons learned after 5 years of the SAPs following RSIA08 passage.

A burned out passenger train still on the track with investigators examining the wreckage.
Figure 1. Photo. Crash scene in Miriam, Nevada, in June 2011.
Source: National Transportation Safety Board, Accident Involving Amtrak Train and Truck-Trailer, Accident Investigation Summary website

The Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) administered by FHWA requires a data-driven strategic approach to improving highway safety on all public roads that focuses on performance.[1] The Railway-Highway Crossings Program (Section 130) funds are set aside from the HSIP apportionment for the elimination of hazards and installation of protective devise at public highway-railway crossings. In accordance with 23 United States Code (USC) 130(d), each State is required to conduct and systematically maintain a survey of all highways to identify those highway-railway grade crossings that may require separation, relocation, or protective devices and to establish and implement a schedule of projects for this purpose. At a minimum, this schedule is to provide signs for all public highway-railway crossings.[2]

States adhere to this requirement by developing systematic prioritization methods to identify crossings that cause the greatest hazard to the traveling public. These prioritization methods vary among the States to accommodate their unique situations. Development of a SAP would go beyond this statutory requirement to focus attention and additional funding on safety improvements at highway-railway grade crossings.

FRA/FHWA Guidance in July 2015

On July 29, 2015, FRA published an interim resource document titled Model State Action Plan Resource Guide for Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety. This document outlines many of the steps recommended by FRA in producing a model SAP. The interim resource document is replaced by this document.


Section 11401 of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act requires each State to develop a SAP. The 10 States that developed a SAP under RSIA08 are required to update their SAP and must submit a report to FRA describing how they implemented their previous SAP. After this document is published, FRA will develop additional regulations outlining plan requirements and due dates.

FRA will review and approve the new and updated SAPs. If FRA finds that a SAP is deficient, it will notify the State, which will have 60 days to update it. After the SAP is approved, FRA will publish the SAP on its website in accordance with the FAST Act.

For assistance with the SAPs required under the FAST Act, a State should contact Debra Chappell at debra.chappell@dot.gov.


"Part I: Model Grade Crossing Action Plan" examines all 10 SAPs from the initial RSIA08 requirements for potential best practices that a State should consider adding to its SAP, which is required under the FAST Act.

"Part II: Noteworthy Methods in Project Prioritization" also provides a summary of noteworthy grade crossing project prioritization practices. It describes the results of interviews with several additional States not included in the initial RSIA08 requirement. These States have been identified as having noteworthy practices related to highway-railway grade crossing safety and closure activities based upon their annual Section 130 reports to FHWA. Their practices also have the potential to be included in future SAPs.


This model SAP was prepared by reviewing a number of different sources, including guidance from FHWA and FRA, reports from both Federal modal administrations incorporating State submissions, State submissions of reports of highway-railway grade crossing activities as part of the State HSIP reports, SAPs submitted under RSIA08 requirements, and other related documents. In addition to these documents, nine different States were selected for interviews. These States comprised both those that had prepared SAPs and those that were not required to do so. The States represent a geographical balance as well as a variety of highway-railway grade crossing prioritization processes.


What Is a SAP?

A SAP is an important part of the grade crossing program management process. It is the mechanism to implement an organizational strategy. While the strategic plan is vital to creating the framework for a State to meet its goals and support its mission statement, it is the action plan that provides the means by which a State may accomplish this.

Like a strategic plan, a SAP can be adjusted based on, but not limited to, context-sensitive data, incident trends, and regulatory and legislative requirements on highway-railway grade crossings.

Summary of SAPs Submitted under RSIA08

Because RSIA08 allowed flexibility for the States to develop their SAPs, the SAPs submitted had common elements (including a focus on multiple-accident crossings) but different approaches. Appendix B contains a detailed summary of each SAP, but the following themes or trends can be noted.

Common Elements of Data Analysis

The 10 SAPs presented different levels of grade crossing data analysis, although each plan went beyond information regularly submitted as part of their HSIP reporting. Since many States have upgraded grade crossing inventory systems, more data are available for reporting. Many States are also upgrading their motor vehicle crash databases as part of their Strategic Highway Safety Plans, so some States are also correlating crash data fields into grade crossing inventories to enhance crash information.

Stakeholder Engagement

A number of States involved rail safety stakeholders in the preparation of their SAPs. One State involved its traffic safety colleagues and contacted railroads in the State; other States convened meetings of stakeholders (railroads, Operation Lifesaver, FHWA, FRA, and local engineers) to identify action items and recommendations. Some States posted their plans for public comment, and others involved stakeholders at the outset to help generate strategies and goals.

Broader Focus

The congressional mandate to focus on grade crossings with multiple crashes resulted from a recommendation from the 2004 USDOT OIG report. Most States included information on crossings with multiple crashes and tied strategies to those locations, but many States faced grade crossing safety issues that went beyond these particular crashes and addressed those issues in their plans.

Put the Action in Action Plans

A number of States established strategies and specified responsible parties, timelines, and evaluation measures for each strategy. Table 1 summarizes information from the 10 submitted SAPs.

Table 1. State action plan summary table.
State/Agency Structure/ TimeFrame Multiple-Crash/ High-Risk Crossings? Major Themes/Special Conditions Analyses Noteworthy Practices


Alabama Department of Transportation Bureau of Multimodal Transportation, Railroad Safety Program

8 program areas for improving safety


Sections on multiple incidents and high-risk crossings

Emphasizes road user safety at grade crossings

Includes high-speed rail (HSR) grade crossings, although State not currently pursuing HSR

Data on crashes, fatalities, and injuries included, as well as activity measures State participated in testing of crossing protection devices that stretched across roadway lanes


California Public Utilities Commission

10 specific strategies, a mix of new and traditional approaches

5-year action plan

Appendix E includes crossing details and evaluation

Reducing grade crossing accidents through improvements, closures, and grade separations

Includes passenger rail and rail transit

Extensive analysis of 10-year crash trends, including benchmarking to other States A number of State and local funding programs for grade separations; improving inventory with additional data such as near-miss reports


Florida Department of Transportation

Eight strategy areas

Not explicit but appears to be 5 years

Evaluation of 74 incidents at multiple accident locations, with overall mitigation assessment

In a high-population State, most incidents occur at public crossings with active crossing devices involving risky driver behavior

Grade separations in flat coastal conditions are more expensive

Extensive analysis of incidents, causes, and results, multi- incident locations Combines FRA safety data and driver contributing factors from crash data; corridor approach on high- train-volume corridors


Georgia Department of Transportation, Office of Utilities, Railroad Crossing Program

Four categories: education, engineering, enforcement, and data analysis


Addressed through data analysis, inclusion in strategies (more diagnostics at locations)

Corridor approach in overall State rail planning, follows with grade crossing evaluations

No special conditions specified

Crash analysis by subdivision, not just by railroad; specific discussion of short lines and passenger rail Ties multiple crash locations to outreach strategies; school districts report route data at crossings with active devices for inventory updates; plan developed with opportunity for stakeholder comments


Illinois Commerce Commission, Illinois Department of Transportation

Seven strategies with accompanying goals 5-year action plan Addressed throughout the plan

Active plan with multiple approaches

Includes pedestrian rail crossings

Crossing data analysis by type, railroad, county, and conditions; crash data at 5- and 10- year periods Addresses private crossings; collision investigations use diagnostic exercises; 5 year grade crossing program updated annually


Indiana Departmentof Transportation, Rail Office

Seven strategies, three performance measures

5-year plan with goals

Each crossing with multiple collisions is presented and analyzed

Two thirds of collisions at grade crossings with active protection devices in place, data trends identified with countermeasures

Private crossings are an issue in HSR corridors in the State, even if State has no authority to regulate those crossings

Crossing data analysis and State benchmarking Strategies include discussion of implementation challenges; motor vehicle crash data used in collision analyses


Iowa Department of Transportation, Office of Rail Transportation

Solutions developed with railroads and Office of Traffic Safety, 12 actions identified


Included throughout data analysis

Longer-term data trend highlighted with a range of projected values for the plan period

No special conditions specified

Extensive data analyses with information on demographics, time, modes, and locations of collisions Goals are discussed with responsibilities of stakeholders; goals have timelines; each crossing receives a benefit-cost calculation number


Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development

12 action items, with agency leads and outcomes

5-year action plan

Included in data analysis

Updating 2006 plan (adopted as pilot for other States)

No special conditions specified

Updated extensive data analysis from 2006 plan, including multiple crash locations Strategies identified after stakeholder meeting; each action item is assigned to an agency with timeline


Ohio Rail Development Commission, Public Utilities Commission of Ohio

Six safety program objectives, with strategies, activity plans, and measurements

At least 5 years, objectives have 2- to 10-year horizons

No explicit mention

Railroads play important role in State economy given Ohio's geography in the nation's rail system

Two agencies involved in grade crossing protection with independent funding

No specific data analysis Performance measurement a regular part of grade crossing activities; State funding programs provide for crossing surface improvements


TxDOT Rail Division

14 strategies under evaluation and engineering,

4 strategies under education and enforcement

5-year action plan

Addressed in two appendices of extensive data analysis

Large number of railroad miles and railroad crossings

Passenger and commuter rail collisions included

Very extensive data analysis, including detailed examination of multiple crash locations Plan includes stakeholder meeting; close interaction with FRA; 18 strategies have an implementation timeline


Benchmarking against Other Plans

Action plans for highway-railway grade crossing safety fit within the context of many other plans that State DOTs and other related agencies prepare and implement. State rail plans are also multiyear, datadriven plans for State investments in passenger and freight railroad services. FRA has issued guidance for the content and format of State rail plans, which include rail safety matters as part of the overall State rail system inventory in the plan. Highway-railway grade crossing statistics and funding programs are usually described in State rail plans but not to the depth of typical action plans. State rail plans are required by 49 U.S.C. Sections 22701 to 22706, and Section 11401 of the FAST Act requires SAPs for all States.

As part of the HSIP, States are required to develop a Strategic Highway Safety Plan (SHSP),1 which is a statewide coordinated safety plan that provides a comprehensive framework for reducing highway fatalities and serious injuries on all public roads. An SHSP identifies a State's key safety needs and guides investment decisions toward strategies and countermeasure with the most potential to save lives and prevent injuries. The State department of transportation develops an SHSP in a cooperative process with local, State, Federal, tribal, and private-sector safety stakeholders. It is a data-driven, multiyear comprehensive plan that establishes statewide goals, objectives, and key emphasis areas and integrates the four E's (4E's) of highway safety: engineering, education, enforcement, and emergency medical services (EMS). States are not required to include strategies for highway-railway grade crossings in their SHSPs. However, if a State does include strategies as an emphasis area, then the SAP and SHSP goals related to highway-railway grade crossings should be consistent.

SAPs and Current Section 130 Reporting

FHWA has issued guidance for the annual reports that are required as part of the Section 130 Program.[3] The reporting guidance provides a suggested format for consistent reporting among all the States. The annual reports include general information about the State's program for administering the funds and for reporting project data from the current fiscal year. It also includes reporting on the effectiveness of previously completed projects (which includes before and after crash data to be used for project evaluation). States are given the flexibility to report based on calendar years, State fiscal years, or Federal fiscal years, but they are encouraged to be consistent from year to year.

SAPs would not supplant or duplicate this reporting of Section 130 funding. The Section 130 annual reports generally describe how a State obligated its funding in previous years and how it administers its program. However, SAPs would be more comprehensive in scope (looking forward multiple years), examine detailed highway-railway grade crossing trends, and identify strategies to address those trends. The SAPs described in this document identify overall highway-railway grade crossing safety challenges and overall strategies and actions to address those challenges. Application of Section 130 funding is part of those actions, but the SAPs involve more than grade crossing improvement projects and strategies that are funded through the Section 130 Program.

1 More information on Strategic Highway Safety Plans can be found at http://safety.fhwa.dot.gov/hsip/shsp/. [ Return to note 1. ]

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