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Recording Devices for Interconnected Grade Crossing and Intersection Signal Systems: An Informational Report

Chapter 4. Model Strategy for Establishing Regular Joint Inspections of Interconnected Systems

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The following presents a model strategy to establish regular joint inspections of interconnected highway-rail grade crossing signal systems. "Regular" joint inspection is recommended on an annual (12 month) basis. The annual inspection cycle coincides with FRA-mandated 49 CFR 234 inspection, testing, and maintenance procedures currently required of railroads. As previously stated, the ultimate goal is to encourage a working relationship between highway agencies and railroads to ensure that highway-rail grade crossing locations are being proactively maintained to minimize the occurrence of vehicle-train collisions. This generic model strategy is intended to assist with formulating and establishing more stringent processes and procedures than what is generally the current practice.

4.1 Pre-Inspection

Prior to the inspection taking place, the highway agency should coordinate with the railroad to schedule times and locations. Given that there is currently no national highway traffic signal inspection program counterpart to the FRA regulations, it should be the responsibility of the highway agency to initiate the inspection. This will promote participation by both agencies having jurisdiction over a highway-rail grade crossing location.

It is important that personnel involved in the joint inspections be knowledgeable of preemption operation at highway-rail grade crossings. Limited personnel resources may preclude intra-agency participation; therefore, agencies may be supported by additional resources including outside entities. For example, smaller jurisdictions such as counties or towns may work with the State Department of Transportation or with private contractors to perform inspection, testing, and maintenance tasks. In these instances, the jurisdictional highway agency should be responsible for coordinating with all outside parties involved to ensure participation. When scheduling, consideration may be given to railroad timetables such that the inspection is conducted simultaneously with an actual train movement through the highway-rail grade crossing under inspection.

As part of the pre-inspection preparation, participating highway agency and railroad personnel should meet and review documentation related to the crossing(s) being reviewed. Documentation that should be part of the inspectional process includes the most current signal as-built plan, signal timing and operations forms, and any previous inspection reports. Highway agency and railroad personnel (or representatives) should also identify and note any changes that have occurred since the last annual inspection or are planned to occur at a time after the upcoming annual inspection is to be conducted. This information should be brought to the inspection and shared with all participants.

4.2 Inspection

The recommended annual joint inspection of highway-rail grade crossings with interconnected signal systems is intended to verify that all aspects of the interconnection and of each individual system component are working properly. In order to make these verifications, there are a number of critical items that should be checked and tested during the inspection. The following are sample prompts for these items; however, additional items may be appropriate.

Updated or upgraded signal systems may have the capability to be monitored remotely, which does not require personnel to be on-site. However, it is recommended that inspecting and testing be conducted on-site to visually confirm acceptable condition and verify proper functionality of all relative traffic control devices including pavement markings, signing, etc. This will serve to ensure that no critical item is overlooked that may not be identified through remote monitoring.

It is recommended that highway agency and railroad personnel download and review data stored within an event recording device (if installed). The proposed minimum required events/circuits to be monitored and recorded have been identified in the "Technical Information", as listed in Table 7.

Table 7: Minimum Proposed Events/Circuits to be Monitored and Recorded

  • Preempt (Active/Inactive)
  • Vehicle/Pedestrian Signal
  • Right-of-Way Transfer Time
  • Track Clearance Green Interval
  • Flash Operation
  • Cabinet Electrical Service
  • Main Cabinet Door (Open/Closed)
  • Supervisory Circuit
  • Railroad Preempt Request
  • Approach Circuits
  • Railroad Crossing Relay
  • Entrance Gate Status
  • Exit Gate Status
  • Island Circuit Occupancy
  • Train Direction
  • Lock Out Protection
  • Power (On/Off)
  • Entrance Alarm (Open/Closed)

This data archive will help identify abnormalities in the operation of interconnected highway-rail grade crossing signal systems, particularly with railroad preemption sequencing. It also allows personnel to determine if either control cabinet/bungalow has been accessed, flagging instances where changes to operations may have been made without being manually documented on work forms and thus requiring further investigation. The ability to download and review archived data eliminates the reliance on an isolated crossing event or simulated activation as the sole basis for determining whether or not all aspects of the system are working properly.

All inspection activities should be documented according to the inspection and testing form jointly adopted by the highway agency and railroad. Any findings needing further investigation, repair, or modifications made during the inspection should be clearly noted and brought to the attention of appropriate highway agency and/or railroad personnel. The form(s) should be signed and dated by the personnel performing the inspection and testing activities and filed. Consideration may be given to universally adopting the 49 CFR 234 mandate for recording and filing of inspection and test results.

4.3 Post-Inspection

It is important that any issues identified during the annual joint inspection are addressed immediately. This requires coordination and cooperation between the highway agency and railroad. Highway agencies and railroads should establish agreements to facilitate partnerships and meet common goals and objectives. The agreements should clearly define the immediate follow-up and continuous maintenance obligations of each agency. The responsibilities of each agency in terms of furnishing and funding specific elements at highway-rail grade crossings with interconnected signal systems should also be established. For example:

Post-inspection activities may also include responding to issues at interconnected highway-rail grade crossing locations in between annual joint inspections. Issues relating to incorrect operation or system failure (highway, railroad, or both) may be identified by motorists, pedestrians, highway agency personnel, railroad personnel, train conductors, emergency personnel, etc. They may also be identified through alarms registered by an event recording device (if installed). Abnormalities in the events being recorded can be programmed to create an alarm, which is logged within the device. The device may also send a remote notification of the alarm to either or both of the responsible agencies to alert them of a potential problem.

The highway agency and railroad should establish protocols to respond to potential issues with the operation of interconnected highway-rail grade crossing signal systems. This includes identifying a point of contact to receive comments and concerns, as well as a single point of authority to make decisions regarding necessary modifications to resolve problems with the grade crossing operation. Additional consideration may be given to personnel and protocol for remotely monitoring and addressing event recording device alarms.

Each agency may have or adopt independent inspection, testing, and maintenance activities to be conducted at intervals less than 12 months. For example, 49 CFR 234 specifies components of the grade crossing warning system that are to be inspected, tested, and maintained on a monthly and quarterly (3 month) basis by FRA. Six-month preventive inspection and testing activities have been proposed for highway agencies. Interim independent activities and modifications should be documented and filed to keep a record for subsequent joint inspections.

4.3.1 Agreements

Current practices establish agreements between highway agencies and railroads prior to the design and construction of improvement projects. These agreements are required to define the responsibilities of both parties to include a detailed scope of work, a method for completing work, a reference to appropriate plans and specifications, and a maintenance strategy. For federal-aid projects, the agreements must also explicitly identify the crossing, describe the improvements being made, provide a cost estimate, and establish a proposed work schedule (as required by 23 CFR 464.216 and 23 CFR 464.218).

One strategy is the use of a "master agreement". This arrangement can be structured to specify the responsibilities of an individual project or for several projects. Depending on the desires of the participating highway agencies and railroads, the agreement can also cover the entire project or specific project tasks. In situations where only partial project responsibilities are defined, subsequent provisions can be enacted through a change order to the master agreement.

Cooperation and coordination between highway agencies and railroads is required for the joint inspection process to be successful. It is also important to ensure that identified problems are addressed and resolved in a timely manner to support safe operation of highway-rail grade crossing locations. Several "best practices" identified by highway agencies and railroads to promote effective partnerships include:

Developing an agreement between highway agencies and railroads helps to facilitate partnerships and meet common objectives. Much like the agreements formed for construction projects, similar agreements can be written for conducting the joint inspection. The agreements should clearly state the responsibilities of each agency during the process, as well as define the responsibilities of each agency immediately following the inspection and in between the next scheduled inspection.

Two sample agreements are attached in Appendix G. These agreements can be modified by highway agencies and railroads for the joint inspection of highway-rail grade crossings. The first is a railroad-highway master agreement addressing the installation, maintenance, and improvement of warning devices. The second is a diagnostic checklist that also specifies the responsibilities of each agency in terms of furnishing and funding specific elements at a highway-rail grade crossing location.

4.4 Funding Sources

Federal, State, and local government agencies as well as the railroad industry administer funds for highway-rail grade crossing improvements. The major source of Federal funding is the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Also known as Section 130 funds, these monies can be used for several types of highway-rail grade crossing safety improvement projects, including track circuit improvements and interconnection. State and local agency monies are typically used for maintenance of highway traffic control devices, roadway approaches, and vegetation at the highway-rail grade crossing. Railroad monies are commonly used for improvements within the railroad right-of-way.

Current practice does not use these funding sources for the conduct of inspections at highway-rail grade crossing locations. The inspections are usually funded through the general operating budget of the State (district) or local highway agency office, accounting for the time requirement to complete and document the inspection. Since the identified funding sources allow for improvements and maintenance, highway agencies and railroads should seek to use these monies for intermediate activities as well as for the detailed annual joint inspection of highway-rail grade crossing locations. Installation of the event recording device(s) at the location should also be considered in funding allocations.

Page last modified on October 15, 2014.
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