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Rail News: Federal Legislation & Regulation

Rep. Lipinski: Grade crossing safety a priority for FAST Act reauthorization bill


For the first time in 15 years, the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials held a hearing yesterday on issues surrounding grade crossing safety.

The hearing was called as part of the subcommittee's work on legislation to reauthorize the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, said Chairman Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) in a prepared statement of his opening remarks. Addressing issues related to grade crossings is one of his "top priorities" in the legislation, including finding more funding for grade separations and quiet zones.

Lipinski's district has the most grade crossings of any congressional district due to the number of railroads that operate in the Chicago region, he said. On a daily basis, his constituents experience issues related to living near a high number of grade crossings, such as blocked crossings, train horn noise and railroad property upkeep, he said.

The Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) recent launch of a blocked crossing reporting system is a "step in the right direction," Lipinski said.

"But ... the notion that the way a community experiencing blocked grade crossing should try to solve the problem is to fill out a report and submit to the FRA or call the railroad and hope the railroad will unblock the crossing is ridiculous," he said.

Both Lipinski and House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) also noted the high cost of some crossing safety improvement projects.

"With only $245 million available nationwide this year for projects through Section 130 Railway-Highway Grade Crossing Program, many states struggle to cover the costs of multimillion-dollar projects," said DeFazio, according to a prepared statement of his opening remarks.

As a result, Democrats plan to provide more funding opportunities for crossing safety projects through grants in the rail title of the upcoming surface transportation reauthorization bill, DeFazio added.

Among those scheduled to testify at yesterday's hearing were Karl Alexy, the FRA's associate administrator for railroad safety and chief safety officer; Brian Vercruysse, rail safety program administrator for the Illinois Commerce Commission; Mark Christoffels, chief engineer of the San Gabriel Valley Council of Governments/Alameda Corridor-East Project; Rachel Maleh, executive director of Operation Lifesaver Inc.; and Jason Morris, assistant vice president of safety and environment for Norfolk Southern Corp.