The INDOT Office of Traffic Safety administers the federal aid Railway-Highway Crossings program. The Railway-Highway Crossings (Section 130) Program provides funds for the elimination of hazards at railway-highway crossings. The 2015 Fixing America's Surface Transportation Act (FAST Act) continues the annual set-aside for railway-highway crossing improvements under 23 USC 130(e). The funds are set-aside from the Highway Safety Improvement Program (HSIP) apportionment.
The goal of this safety fund is to reduce the crash risk of the most hazardous public highway rail crossings in Indiana. Overall, safety at highway rail crossings has been improved by projects funded with Section 130. Since 1975, the number of crashes at public highway rail crossings in Indiana has declined dramatically.
Section 130 funds are typically used to install train-activated warning bells, flashing lights, overhead cantilevers, gates and constant warning time circuitry at highway rail crossings on the state and local highway system. Note that Section 130 funds cannot be used at private highway rail crossings.
Typical highway rail crossing upgrades using Section 130 funds usually fall into two categories:
- With existing passive protection (such as cross bucks and/or stop signs) at the crossing a safety project would install train-activated warning devices. Usually, warning bells, flashing lights, overhead cantilevers with flashing lights, gates, and constant warning time are installed.
- With existing train-activated protection (such as flashing lights and/or gates), a safety project would upgrade the existing signal equipment, add four-quadrant gates, install an overhead cantilever with flashing lights, upgrade circuitry to add constant warning time, modernize adjacent highway traffic signals, add warning bells, add a median barrier (to prevent motorists from driving around lowered gates) or other enhancements to reduce crash risk at the highway rail crossing.
Section 130 Highway Rail Crossing Safety Program will pay 90% of the costs with the remaining 10 percent paid by the highway authority or the railroad [23 U.S.C. 130(f)(3)].
With the current level of federal funding, the number of Section 130 crossing upgrades in Indiana is roughly 20 crossings per year.
Crossing Hazard Index
A hazard index for each public rail-highway crossing in the state is calculated annually using Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) formulas and guidelines. The Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Handbook – Revised Second Edition (the handbook) is used as a basis for the hazard index calculation and is a single reference document based on the prevailing and best practices as well as adopted standards relative to rail-highway crossings. The guidelines and alternative improvements presented in the handbook are primarily those that have proved effective and are accepted nationwide.
A rail-highway crossing is unique in that it constitutes the intersection of two very different transportation modes. The hazard index is a measure of the potential for crashes (or predicted number of crashes per year) at the rail-highway crossing. The FRA safety database serves as the source of information for train traffic and accident history at all crossings. The hazard index is based on many factors including the number trains and vehicles at the crossing, the number of main tracks, is the road surface type, maximum train speed, and the number of highway lanes.
Because the FRA safety data cannot describe the precise characteristics of each crossing, such as sight distances, the calculation of predicted accident rates is improved by the addition of actual accident experience at a rail-highway crossing. The predicted accident rate is calculated using the factors above and the result is then multiplied by a factor containing the actual accident experience (usually the crash rate over a five year period). The final hazard index is obtained after applying a normalizing constant. The normalizing constant correlates the accident prediction formulas with actual crash rates on a nationwide basis. This Accident prediction and resource allocation procedure normalizing constant is provided by the FRA.
The hazard index is used to compare the crash potential (predicted number of crashes per year) of one crossing to another in a consistent manner. Crossings with the highest hazard index value are studied in detail. In order to gauge effectiveness of likely countermeasures, crossings selected for improvement are analyzed based upon seven decision criteria to generate a final score or ranking. The seven decision criteria applied are the hazard index, type of improvement selected, type of protection already on the rail corridor, the type of development near the rail-highway crossing, motorist expectancy with regards to train movements, the type of highway, and finally the public or local authority interest or comments on safety of the rail-highway crossing. The seven decision criteria allows INDOT to incorporate the concerns of local officials, new development issues (such change of traffic patterns), and rail corridor projects into the project selection process.
Section 130 Projects
Unlike most other federal highway funds, local agencies cannot request Section 130 funds. However, comments regarding the safety performance of any public rail-highway crossing are welcome and the comments may be addressed directly to the local INDOT District rail-utility coordinator. The comments will then be forwarded to the Office of Traffic Safety. The comments will be reviewed during the annual project selection process as part of the seven decision criteria.
The hazard index is the primary initial factor used to rank and select Section 130 projects. The final ranking is based on scoring of the seven decision criteria. Certain rail corridors might be identified as needing upgrades based on increasing rail traffic. Projects for the highest ranked locations are funded, limited by the total amount available in each fiscal year. If funded, the selected locations are programmed for project development and most can be constructed within 18 months after they are programmed.
Local government agencies are allowed to fund and improve the crossing protection at public rail-highway crossings under their jurisdiction at any time. There is a common misconception that because the INDOT Office of Traffic Safety administers the Section 130 federal funds, it is therefore responsible for funding all rail-highway crossing safety improvements. Local government agencies should note that the Section 130 funds are used only to address the most critical needs statewide. Local safety concerns and knowledge are very important and there is nothing in Indiana law that prohibits a county, city, or town with jurisdiction over a crossing from funding safety improvements on their own. Local agencies are encouraged to initiate projects for crossing safety improvements using locally available highway safety funding or funds from any other source.
Since INDOT can only fund 20 Section 130 crossing improvement projects a year and there are more than 6,000 public rail-highway crossings statewide, local agencies should not wait for INDOT’s funding involvement. The owner of the road at the crossing -- be it the state, the county, or a local municipality -- has the responsibility for deciding what warning devices rail-highway crossings should have and for paying the installation costs.
INDOT also has a program that can assist with funding of passive warning improvements. These funds are administered by the INDOT Rail Office.
If a local agency wishes to fund a rail safety improvement project at a public rail-highway crossing using their own funds, the INDOT Office of Traffic Safety, INDOT District rail-utility coordinators and INDOT Rail Office can assist with developing the project.
The INDOT Rail Office should be contacted to assist in drafting agreements with the affected railroad when initiating a local rail-highway safety project. INDOT must review the project to insure that it meets all of the necessary requirements under Indiana Code and State of Indiana Special Provisions for Installation of Active Warning Devices at Highway-Railway Grade Crossings, revised March 6, 1997
Rail/ Highway Safety Engineer
Office of Traffic Safety
Indiana Department of Transportation
100 N. Senate Ave. IGCN 955
Indianapolis, IN 46204