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

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

Chapter 4. Content and Recommended Outline for a State Action Plan

Table 2 is the outline of the model State action plan (SAP). States should modify this outline to meet their goals based on their individual needs and circumstances as discussed previously.

Table 2. Model State action plan outline.
Section Elements

Mission statement


Goals and objectives

Statewide Highway-railway Grade Crossing Safety Efforts

Highway-railway grade crossing planning

Highway-railway grade crossing program administration

Public Engagement

Process for stakeholder involvement in SAP development

Stakeholder involvement in SAP implementation

Data Analysis

Data discussion

Broad overview of highway-railway grade crossing environment

Crash data

Risk Assessment

Individual crossings and corridors

Higher-level safety considerations

Highest-Priority Highway-railway Grade Crossing Safety Challenges in the State

How the challenges were determined


Action Plan

Goals and objectives for addressing safety challenges

Action plan for accomplishing goals and objectives

Process and metrics for measuring progress

Challenges to meeting goals and objectives

Determine Next Steps

Short-term actions

Long-term actions


Mission Statement

The SAP contains a statement about its purpose, explaining why it exists.


The SAP specifies some of the elements identified in the planning process, including the external stakeholders being consulted and the time period covered.

Goals and Objectives

The SAP details and explains the goals and objectives that are to be achieved, as explained in the planning process.


Highway-Railway Crossing Planning

This section describes the relationship of highway-railway crossing safety planning for other State plans, including the State Highway Safety Plan (SHSP), State rail plan, and State transportation improvement program. Figure 4 shows a highway-railway grade crossing and signal.

A train moving along a curve on the approach to a highway-railway grade crossing, where a pole-mounted crossbuck and red flashing lights warn oncoming traffic about the approaching train.
Figure 4. Photo. Highway-railway grade crossing and flashing lights.
Source: Operation Lifesaver, Inc.

Highway-Railway Crossing Program Administration

This section summarizes information already being submitted as part of the programmatic description in State Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) Section 130 annual reports. This information includes details of how:

Connected to the description of how crossing programs are governed, the State action plan (SAP) also describes current statewide programs for crossing safety because some States have programs to address specific crossing safety issues and circumstances with State and local funding. This inventory of current programs also describes how State safety programs addressing trespasser injuries and fatalities are connected to highway-railway crossings.

This section of the SAP also explains how highway-railway crossing projects, once selected and funded, are executed. This describes the relationship of State-level grade crossing program managers and local project contracting and administration (which in some States can be the same organization), the processes for working with freight and passenger railroads, the coordination with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) division office, the coordination with the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) regional office, and the provisions for contract completion and closure.


Process for Stakeholder Involvement in State Action Plan Development

The SAP describes the process of engaging highway-railway crossing safety stakeholders and the general public. States should consider the best means of gaining outside input into the SAP without too much expense. Public outreach in some States with large areas and dispersed populations can be very expensive to conduct using traditional open-house meetings. Careful consideration of public outreach methods should also include State agency public engagement specialists because traditional methods are becoming increasingly ineffective at reaching members of the general public. Virtual open houses and web-based briefings, with interactive content and hosted chat to respond to public questions, can be very inclusive without as much expense. This model SAP is not prescriptive about the type of outreach to be employed, only that the State describe the process of seeking and responding to external views.

Stakeholder Involvement in State Action Plan Implementation

The implementation program, with cycles for data collection, reporting on strategies and objectives, and mid-term revisions, needs to include provisions for sharing information on the SAP's accomplishments with external stakeholders. The program managers should take advantage of in-house public engagement expertise to identify techniques and methods that work effectively for a given State's population, stakeholders, and transportation networks.


Data Discussion

The SAP lists the data used in its development and implementation. This includes a description of the highway-railway crossing inventory system managed by the State and how the data are organized, collected (including data from outside sources), updated, and reported. If the SAP uses data beyond the inventory, then the additional data sets can be explained in a similar fashion (organization, collection, and maintenance), including explanations of how the data are used.

For example, some States integrate crash record systems with highway-railway grade crossing identifiers to add details to crossing incident analyses. Not every State has the same data in the same formats or the same details–States should describe how the available data inform the SAP's strategies, objectives, and action items.

Broad Overview of the Highway-Railway Crossing Environment

The SAP explains the highway-railway crossing safety environment, in terms of inventory and risk factors. Tables and geographic information systems (GIS) mapping can explain inventory data regarding the number of public and private crossings and the protection devices at crossings. Additional details on safety risk factors can include:

Crash Data

This section includes safety data:


Individual Crossings and Corridors

Whether a State uses a crash prediction model that processes inventory data or not, highway-railway crossing safety professionals understand the confluence of factors that create higher risks at some crossings than at others. The SAP includes a discussion of safety risks at certain crossings or along certain corridors–risks identified through an analysis of crossing data presented in the section on data analysis. This risk analysis helps identify crossings, types of crossings, and corridors with crossings where focused attention might make a positive impact and reduce crashes and their consequences.

Higher-Level Safety Considerations

The data analysis section of the SAP can present information on trends that can have effects on grade crossing safety beyond a certain crossing or corridor. (Figure 5 shows examples of safety devices at a grade crossing.) The SAP discusses general safety risks, particularly those factors that lend themselves to policy or programmatic strategies and mitigation.

A highway-railway grade crossing with gantry-mounted crossbucks, red warning flashers, and gates to prevent vehicles from proceeding onto the track while a train is approaching or present in the crossing.
Figure 5. Photo. Highway-railway crossing and safety devices.
Source: Indiana Department of Transportation, Section 130 Website

Higher level safety considerations can include, but are not limited to, the following situations:

See Appendix C for more information on blocked crossings.


Based on the data analysis and risk assessment, the SAP presents a summary of the highest-priority highway-railway crossing safety challenges facing the State. The goals of the SAP are aimed at resolving or mitigating these challenges, and progress toward these goals is measured by the SAP's objectives.

States are encouraged to consider their unique or specific safety challenges. For instance, one State may decide to pay particular attention to crossings along corridors with frequent crude-by-rail unit trains, but another State may not need to address that particular hazardous materials issue if it has no major crude oil rail movements.

States are also encouraged to base these challenges (and the related goals and objectives) on data presented and explained in the SAP. Stakeholder involvement in the SAP's development may generate suggestions for the challenges in this section, but such ideas need to be anchored to data in the SAP to be consistent with the other kinds of performance-based planning that exists at the local, State, and Federal level.

States are also encouraged to consider the additional safety benefits that may be achieved at relatively little additional cost when selecting the types of improvements to be installed. For example, when upgrading a passive crossing to automatic warning devices, installing a flashing lights with gates system instead of a flashing lights only system would provide an 88-percent increase to safety instead of a 64-percent increase at the cost of an additional $30,000 to $50,000. Appendix D provides a table of typical cost ranges and estimated risk reductions for the improvements.


This section of the SAP links goals and objectives to the safety challenges listed in the previous section, including tactical actions to be taken to meet the objectives and accomplish the goals.

Goals and Objectives for Addressing Safety Challenges

As stated in the planning preparation sections, FHWA planning documents define a goal as "a broad statement that describes a desired end state." An objective is "a specific, measurable statement that supports achievement of a goal."These goals should be tied to and address the safety challenges just listed. Just as the safety challenges are prioritized into a manageable list, so too should the goals and objectives be reachable and reasonable. The objectives offer the State and rail safety stakeholders measurable benchmarks for assessing progress toward meeting the goals. The objectives should be defined so they can be measured by available data maintained by or accessible to the State.

Action Plan for Accomplishing Goals and Objectives

This section contains the action elements to reach the goals to address the safety challenges. The actions in this list are specific, measurable, time bound, and assigned to responsible parties. The overall time horizon of the actions is up to each State to determine. The State and stakeholders are encouraged to delegate actions to parties outside the State agency preparing the SAP, so long as the stakeholders accept the responsibilities through the public engagement process. The listed actions may extend over the SAP's time frame, and some may be sequential and build on each other.

Example SAPs are as follows.

Iowa Department of Transportation

The SAP prepared by the Office of Rail Transportation of the Iowa Department of Transportation (DOT), incorporates enumerated strategies, lists expected time frames for accomplishment, discusses institutions and organizations involved in implementation, and identifies performance metrics for measuring strategy success. An example of this approach is summarized for Education Action Item B: Family Partnerships:[5]

Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development

The SAP from Louisiana Department of Transportation and Development (LA DOTD) updates an earlier SAP prepared as a pilot effort with the cooperation of FHWA and FRA. The SAP includes detailed action items, strategies and outcomes, timelines for implementation, responsible parties (including names), and evaluation measurements. An example of this approach is summarized for Item 4, Crossing Closure/ Consolidation Project List:[6]

A pickup truck weaving its way around a closed gate in order to cross a railroad track.
Figure 6. Photo. Highway-railway crossing and truck avoiding gate arms.
Source: Operation Lifesaver, Inc.

The Texas Department of Transportation

The SAP for the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) lists strategies in two categories, evaluation and engineering and education and enforcement. These strategies are listed in action plans for each of the five years covered in the plan. An example of this information is summarized for an evaluation and engineering action item on signal preemption:[7]

Process and Metrics for Measuring Progress

This section includes a discussion of the means by which inventory and crash data are employed to measure progress in accomplishing the plan objectives. The SAP identifies the parties responsible for collecting information on activities assigned in action plan items, and specifies the timing and content of periodic reporting on progress.

Challenges to Meeting Goals and Objectives

This section includes a discussion of the possible challenges or impediments that may affect the accomplishment of the actions, objectives, and goals of the SAP. This is a normal part of any project management plan, and each challenge listed is paired with a possible means of overcoming the challenge, mitigating the problems, or establishing benchmarks for determining whether alternative actions may be necessary to reach the objectives of the SAP.


The planning elements listed above–safety challenges, goals, objectives, and actions–and the planning process and engagement of stakeholders may identify some actions that are less tactical and more programmatic. For example, a State may administer a legislatively directed program with a dedicated funding source to address a particular grade crossing issue, and the State and stakeholders may conclude that the challenges and goals that led to the creation of that program no longer apply or have been superseded by other, higher-impact challenges and needs. The SAP may conclude with a series of programmatic initiatives or recommendations for policy makers within the State agency or at the legislative level.

This section outlines next steps at a higher level (if necessary) and discusses the extent to which accomplishment of these programmatic changes may require reassessment of the SAP in part or as a whole.

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Page last modified on March 3, 2017
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