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At the Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) Grade Crossing Safety Summit held last week in Washington, D.C., U.S. Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao credited the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) and industry stakeholders for reducing grade crossing fatalities to a third of what they were in 1989.Still, noting that progress has plateaued in recent years, Chao said she's called on the FRA, Federal Transit Administration and other USDOT agencies to develop new strategies to improve grade crossing safety. "The data indicates that only 32 of the more than 2,100 grade crossing collisions last year involved failure of automatic warning devices," she said in her written remarks. "That means every day, drivers, pedestrians and others are making dangerous, reckless decisions to try and 'beat' trains."Infrastructure improvements and year-round public awareness campaigns will be required to continue to reduce fatalities at grade crossings, she said. On the communications front, the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration will continue the "Stop. Trains Can't" public information campaign launched in 2018 and supported with a $4.3 million advertising buy. An additional $4.5 million has been obligated for an ad buy in fiscal-year 2019, Chao said.Additionally, the FRA is working with the U.S. Department of Transportation's Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office, other modes and the private sector to keep grade crossing safety a part of the development of autonomous vehicles, she said. As part of the effort, the FRA has committed $1.9 million to the project to date, with an additional $514,000 allocated for FY2019.Chao urged communities, in partnership with railroads, to close high-risk or unnecessary crossings or create grade separations. An example of this is the Chicago Region Environmental and Transportation Efficiency (CREATE) program, which aims to improve the rail network and make it safer in part by eliminating several busy grade crossings, she said.Earlier this year, the USDOT awarded the CREATE program $132 million for projects under the Infrastructure for Rebuilding America discretionary grant program.The project — a partnership between USDOT, state and city governments, Amtrak, Metra and freight railroads — "is the kind of collaboration that can help make big strides," Chao said.
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