Transportation Press Release
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 17, 2007
Indiana Highway-Rail Crossing Fatalities at 30-Year Low in 2006
Targeted education and engineering strategies result in fewer vehicle-train crashes
INDIANAPOLIS – An Indiana Department of Transportation (INDOT) analysis of railroad crossing crashes shows highway-rail fatalities in Indiana declined sharply in 2006, adding to a 30-year record of continuous improvement. Since a high of 884 highway-rail crashes in 1977, collisions between trains and vehicles in Indiana have trended downward, even as rail and highway traffic have steadily increased.
“This safety improvement is the direct result of aggressive actions we’ve taken to improve our highway-rail crossings,” said INDOT Commissioner Karl B. Browning. “Educating motorists about rail crossing safety, improving warning systems at high-risk rail crossings and ensuring trains operate safely have reduced highway-rail collisions significantly over the past three decades.”
According to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data, highway-rail fatalities were down 38 percent in 2006, from 21 fatalities in 2005 to 13 fatalities in 2006. Highway-rail crashes also declined 22 percent in 2006, from 175 crashes in 2005 to 136 crashes in 2006. The number of highway-rail crashes and fatalities is now at an all time low in Indiana.
Indiana has 6,057 public railroad crossings – only five states have more. On average, trains cross Indiana’s roadways more than 84,000 times each day. Slightly more than half of Indiana’s crossings have train-activated warning devices, which include flashing lights or lights and gates.
The responsibility of installing and maintaining warning devices is shared between railroad operators, local public agencies and INDOT. On local roads and county roads, rail crossings are the responsibility of the county, city or town with jurisdiction over the roadway. INDOT is responsible for rail crossings on state highways and U.S. routes. Routine maintenance of crossing traffic control devices is the responsibility of the railroad operator.
Highway-rail fatalities made up 1.4 percent of all Indiana highway fatalities in 2006. Although relatively rare, highway-rail crashes are a serious type of crash where cars and trucks are always at a disadvantage due to the larger size and high speeds of the train. Collisions between motor vehicles and trains generally result in a much higher proportion of fatalities and injuries than crashes between two motor vehicles.
INDOT uses two funding sources to improve safety at Indiana railroad crossings. INDOT’s federally funded Highway-Rail Hazard Elimination Program pays for enhanced warning devices at more than 30 of the state’s highest-risk public rail crossings each year, regardless of who has ownership of the roadway. The distribution of these funds is determined by a comprehensive statistical analysis of crossing conditions and crashes. The long-running program’s firm reliance on crash data and risk indicators to determine project funding has played an important role in the continual decline of highway-rail crashes in Indiana.
A second funding source, INDOT’s Rail Grade Crossing Fund, helps counties and municipalities close rail crossings and improve crossing safety. Eligible improvements include adding signage, lighting, medians and pavement markings and making sight distance improvements. These funds are available to local governments as reimbursement funding awarded through an application process.
INDOT also partners with rail safety groups, such as Operation Lifesaver, to promote safety at rail crossings. Nearly two-thirds of all highway-rail crashes in Indiana occur at crossings with active warning devices, such as gates and flashing lights. All too often, drivers disregard warning lights and go around gates in an attempt to beat the train – a move that often results in tragedy. Safety education conducted by INDOT and its safety partners works to reduce the occurrence of these unsafe driving behaviors.