Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Trespassing Research
Highway-rail grade crossings are intersections where highways cross railroad tracks at-grade. Approximately 212,000 highway-rail grade crossings exist on approximately 140,000 miles of track that make up the United States’ railroad system. Grade crossings are also called level crossings in countries such as Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom.
Trespassing along railroad rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Nationally, more than 400 trespass fatalities occur each year. Railroad crossing incidents are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Together, trespassing and railroad crossing incidents account for 94% of all rail-related deaths and injuries, and almost all are preventable. To learn more about railroad safety efforts at highway-rail grade crossings, visit the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety and Trespass Prevention page.
FRA conducts grade crossing and trespassing research to improve railroad safety and reduce accidents and incidents at grade crossings. This goal is advanced through research, development, and testing of safety technologies, and by providing trespassing countermeasures and best practices to communities and industry. FRA organizes its research into four areas: Grade Crossing Technology, Grade Crossing Pedestrian Safety, Grade Crossing Modeling and Simulation, and Grade Crossing and Trespass Outreach/Education.
Grade Crossing and Trespassing Research
Technology research investigates, analyzes, and tests new technologies to improve public safety at grade crossings. Examples of grade crossing technology research include evaluating the impact of flashing lights on drivers’ behavior; the effectiveness of pavement markings; how to reduce traffic queuing; and using artificial intelligence or machine learning capabilities to improve safety at grade crossings.
Pedestrian safety research assesses the effectiveness of technologies and infrastructure improvements that can minimize the risk of pedestrian accidents at grade crossings. Examples within this research area include assessing grade separations with pedestrian paths and new types of pedestrian gates (known as “gate skirts”) that can aid in preventing pedestrians crossing the tracks when a train is approaching.
Modeling and simulation research evaluates scenarios of possible safety improvements at grade crossings without the actual need to perform field testing. Modeling consists of simulating traffic and pedestrian scenarios to understand what safety improvements can be effective at a grade crossing. This research area also evaluates traffic simulations to understand several implications that could result from a safety improvement.
Grade crossing and trespass outreach/education research aims to develop and disseminate educational tools to the public, including state and local governments, law enforcement agencies, and schools. The tools increase awareness of the risk of accidents at grade crossings when appropriate behavior is not observed. Examples of activities include testing the effectiveness of a law enforcement presence on railroad rights-of-way to prevent trespassing, driver grade crossing education, and a trespassing and suicide prevention workshop.
Trespass Countermeasures research aims to develop, test, and validate methods and means to reduce the number of casualties. The Research, Developement & Technology Office expects that the tools, technologies, and lessons learned will be transferred to other stakeholders, such as railroads or local communities for further development and implementation, thus increasing public safety.