March 3, 2011

FRA proposes emergency reporting system requirement

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Thursday proposed a rule that would make it easier for the public to report unsafe conditions at highway-rail grade crossings. The proposal would require railroads to establish toll-free telephone numbers to allow the public to report malfunctioning highway-rail grade crossing warning signals, disabled vehicles blocking crossings or any other unsafe conditions at crossings.

Under the proposed rule, once the railroad receives a call from the public about a malfunctioning crossing signal or a vehicle stalled on the crossing, train operators in that area would be immediately notified of the unsafe condition in an effort to avoid an accident.

“Giving the public the power to report unsafe conditions at a highway-rail grade crossing can save lives,” said U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

The proposal to establish Emergency Notification Systems would require railroads to post a toll-free telephone number and the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Crossing Inventory identification number at every highway-rail crossing and explicitly authorized pathway grade crossing.

Currently, all of the larger, Class I freight railroads and larger passenger railroads have some type of system in place by which they receive notification of unsafe conditions at grade crossings. However, not all smaller railroads have such a system in place. Based on National Crossing Inventory data from the end of December 2009, the proposed rule would affect 211,401 highway-rail and pathway grade crossings and 594 railroads.

“With a uniform emergency notification system all railroads must follow, we could cut the number of highway-rail crossing incidents,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “Standardization would simplify the process for both the public and railroads, saving precious time and lives.”

The proposed rule is required by the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, and was developed following public outreach efforts by FRA. The Notice of Proposed Rulemaking is available here. Comment is due 60 days after the proposal’s publication in the Federal Register.

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