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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

FRA should update its grade-crossing prediction model, OIG says


The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has effective procedures to determine whether grade-crossing incident data are complete and accurate, however the agency needs to update its accident prediction model and improve guidance for inspectors who use the data, a federal audit has found.

The U.S. Department of Transportation's Office of Inspector General (OIG) recently initiated the audit of the FRA's grade-crossing database to assess the agency's collection of grade-crossing incident and investigation data, as well as the data's use to reduce collisions at grade crossings.

The audit was conducted to update the OIG's earlier assessments of the FRA's database, OIG officials said in a press release. In 2005, the OIG reported that the FRA investigated very few crossing incidents. In 2007, the OIG reported that grade-crossing incident information in the FRA's database didn't always include accurate or timely information, with some incidents being reported up to three years late or not at all.

OIG concluded that while the FRA now has effective procedures to determine whether incident data are complete and accurate, the agency hasn't updated its accident prediction formula since 2013. The agency also lacks a comprehensive compliance manual for grade-crossing teams, OIG officials said.

To ensure that the FRA has the tools and guidance necessary to identify, inspect and improve at-risk grade crossings, the OIG recommended the FRA administrator:
• establish and implement a procedure for determining when to evaluate and, if necessary, adjust the normalizing constants for the accident prediction formula in U.S. DOT’s Accident Prediction and Severity Model to reflect current accident and grade crossing inventory data; and
• prepare and implement a comprehensive compliance manual for the grade crossing discipline that includes procedures for using grade crossing data to focus inspections and outreach.

The FRA concurs with the recommendations and has provided an action plan with completion dates, OIG officials said.

Crossing incidents are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths after trespassing, and the leading cause of all railroad accidents, according to the FRA. Roughly 27,000 rail accidents and 29,000 highway-rail grade crossing incidents occurred between 2006 and 2018, causing 10,004 fatalities, 3,508 of which occurred at grade crossings.

Statutes such as the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 and the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act of 2015 require states to use data-driven action plans to improve crossing safety, OIG officials said.

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

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