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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 2. Recommended Process for Preparing a State Action Plan


To gain the most benefit from developing a State action plan (SAP), States should map out the process for completing the plan that reflects the unique railroad and safety environment in the State. This process should be approached as an opportunity to maximize results from public and private highway-railway grade crossing safety efforts, and include consideration of matching the planning work to available resources (data, people, and time) in the SAP.

Develop the Internal and External Team to Prepare a State Action Plan

State highway-railway grade crossing program administrators should talk to others internal and external to their agencies to gain insights and additional perspectives to apply to the development of the SAP, as illustrated in Figure 2.

Diagram depicts the interrelationships of a variety of internal and external safety plans and programs that may provide insights into a grade crossing program. Internal planning teams and resources include: Long-Range Transportation Plans, Public Engagement teams, Strategic Highway Safety Plans, State Rail Plans, and Highway Safety Improvement Plans. External planning resources include: Railroads Operation Lifesaver, Inc., Railroads, FHWA Division Office, FRA Regional Grade Crossing Staff, Public Health/ EMS, and Law Enforcement.
Figure 2. Diagram. State action plan resources and related plans.

State crossing managers should consider involving other safety planners familiar with the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) and Strategic Highway Safety Program (SHSP) as well as those responsible for the State rail plan and long-range transportation plan. These partners can offer expertise in data analysis, public engagement, performance measurement, and plan implementation. Agency public engagement staff can also apply agency-wide practices and resources for stakeholder outreach for the SAP. When a State develops or updates a SAP, the objectives of the SAP should be compelling enough to influence other agency officials and experts to deliver the SAP.

Transportation planning generally includes stakeholder engagement, through both formal steering or advisory committees and broader public outreach. Crossing managers have relationships with railroads (crossing program and overall risk mitigation staff ) in their States as well as Operation Lifesaver, Inc.– participants that can be leveraged for SAP preparation. States should also talk to the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) safety staff at the division level, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regional grade crossing specialists, and freight and safety planners at metropolitan planning organizations.

States should engage law enforcement associations and agencies, freight railroad police, emergency responders, and State health planners. In addition, community partners such as school districts, cycling associations, and others may be included if there are impacts that affect them.

A structured external committee can be a valuable resource in obtaining feedback and proof-testing recommendations. It can also be a conduit for information dissemination to the broader organizations represented by the committee members. These groups can meet remotely and in person to be respectful of private citizens' time and travel costs. The groups can offer valuable insights in setting goals and objectives for the SAP and in reviewing SAP content (should States choose to engage them in interim product reviews). The committee members can help disseminate SAP information to outside groups. Even though the SAP may identify strategies and objectives that involve stakeholders outside the State agency, this committee structure can help gain comments and commitments to action items.

Review Previous Plans and Develop the Scope for the SAP

When developing or updating a SAP, States should consult other planning documents and program manuals related to its highway-railway crossing programs. The State's SHSP should be reviewed so that action plans can be consistent with and build upon State commitments already in place.

The 10 SAPs submitted in response to RSIA08 offer examples, templates, formats, and structure for developing or updating a SAP. They can also help identify the responsible parties for implementing a SAP. However, each State faces unique rail safety challenges including, but not limited to, the State's:

Each State agency responsible for highway-railway crossing programming and project execution is also unique, with different institutional relationships, planning capacity, and available resources. Each State should tailor its SAP to available data and resources (people, time, and money). Clear expectations, time commitments, and resource allocations should guide the preparation of the SAP. States should carefully consider how a SAP can make a positive difference in reducing crashes and associated losses (i.e., injuries, fatalities, property damage, and economic losses) through goals and actions that the State and associated stakeholders can expect to achieve.

Prepare the Highway-Railway Grade Crossing Data Needed for SAP Development

States should collect and manage available data to use in preparing a SAP. Many States maintain crossing inventory data that can be aggregated to produce inventory snapshots based on crossing types, protection devices, and crash data. The inventory data can also be used to identify the risk exposure based on highway and rail traffic volumes at crossings. Some States link crossing inventory databases with crash record data that have additional information on crash causes and conditions at crossing locations. FRA can also provide access to national inventory data and reports of highway-railway crossing collisions created through railroad data submissions.

States completing State rail plans or State freight plans may also have commercial data or waybill sample data from the National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) that include rail traffic density, commodities by rail corridors, and origin/destination data–at least at the county level. These data can augment the economic assessment that can inform a SAP.

Data collection and organization should be part of the planning process prior to actual SAP development. Taking time to identify the available data will help right-size the scope of the SAP, which is part of the process. Since the SAP is intended to add value to rail safety efforts, the work of developing the SAP should fit within existing resources instead of requiring third-party help (unless that choice is made by the State). Many States have been upgrading grade crossing inventory data as part of their 2 percent allowance under Section 130 funding, and these new data sets can enhance the analysis tools and visualization methods that can benefit the SAP.


This section describes the processes associated with putting the SAP together, after the proper planning and preparation have been completed.

Establish Goals and Objectives

As part of the SAP preparation process, States can assess trends in highway-railway crossing safety issues and identify the kinds of improvements the State wishes to see in crashes (e.g., frequency, severity, and outcomes), risk factors (e.g., accident prediction results), and protection devices (deployed by location, corridor, or crossing type). These desired improvements can be expressed in terms of goals and objectives.

According to FHWA's Performance Based Planning and Programming Guidebook, a goal is defined as "a broad statement that describes a desired end state." [4] An objective is "a specific, measurable statement that supports achievement of a goal." Objectives are means of measuring progress toward achievement of a goal. The FHWA guidebook further recommends the adoption of objectives that are "SMART" (specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time bound). Figure 3 illustrates these relationships and descriptions.

Diagram illustrates how a goal, which are defined as being a broad statement that describes a desired end state, is supported by objectives. Objectives are specific, measurable statements that support achievement of a goal. Objectives should be specific, measurable, agreed upon, realistic, and time bound.
Figure 3. Diagram. Goals and "SMART" objectives.

Some examples of goals and objectives are as follows:

Develop Data for State Action Plan Execution and Evaluation

The SAP preparation process identifies sources of data to be used in developing the plan. This includes data that can be used to measure progress toward meeting objectives along the way to achieving goals. Careful attention should be paid to data used in performance-based planning because the data will guide strategies and investments to achieve the goals of the SAP. These data should be available, reliable, and sustainable over the course of the SAP. Data availability will play a role in setting SMART objectives.

Identify Strategies, Programs, and Institutional Arrangements, and Tie Strategies to Time Periods

Strategies are a plan or method to achieve a goal (progress toward which is measured by objectives), and actions are tactics to execute the strategy. The SAP includes specific strategies for reaching objectives and outlines actions to be taken in carrying out the strategies. The SAP can also describe how current or proposed programs can advance the strategies. The SAP takes advantage of current or proposed institutional arrangements among rail safety entities as a means of advancing strategies.

The objectives and strategies should be time constrained as opposed to open ended. Some actions will necessarily precede others, and the SAP should map out the relationships among strategies and actions.

The stakeholder outreach process in developing the SAP allows States to gain commitments from external stakeholders for actions and strategies that advance the SAP's objectives.

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Page last modified on March 3, 2017
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