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Rail News: Safety

Crossing safety: Illinois transportation center releases study; Canadian rail association anticipates new regs


Increased education and enforcement efforts by municipalities and transit agencies, and greater consistency in warning device designs would help prevent pedestrians and cyclists from being struck by freight or passenger trains at grade crossings, according to a recent study issued by the University of Illinois at Chicago's Urban Transportation Center (UTC).

Funded by the Illinois Center for Transportation and CN, the study found "a distinct lack of standards to analyze/quantify pedestrian risk and design effective treatments to reduce risk" after signage and electronic warning devices were analyzed nationwide, UTC officials said in a press release. Although many crossings feature Manual or Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD), a large number of non-compliant MUTCD signs and devices still are in use, the study determined.

Among other findings, the study determined that:
• people talking on a cell phone, pushing a stroller or listening to music on headphones were more distracted when approaching a crossing;
• younger pedestrians are more likely to be aware of active or electronic warning signs, while older pedestrians more frequently notice passive signs;
• the vast majority of available funding for crossing improvements is allocated to highway crossings and little funding is earmarked for pedestrian crossings; and
• pedestrians and cyclists crossing tracks in quiet zones might not receive comparable safety warnings as motorists.

To compile information for the study, a UTC research team surveyed pedestrians at 10 “hot spots” in the Chicago area, and used video surveillance at crossings to monitor pedestrians' actions and behaviors. They also reviewed published studies on crossing safety, and surveyed state regulatory agencies and industry professionals.

Meanwhile, the Railway Association of Canada (RAC) has announced it's working with Transport Canada to develop regulations and standards aimed at further enhancing grade crossing safety.

The Canadian rail industry supports the need for crossing regulations that improve safety, RAC officials said in a press release. To that end, railroads encourage amalgamations and closures of unnecessary crossings, and strictly limit new crossings to locations where no other alternatives exist, they said.

"We expect regulations to be introduced in the near future and we welcome the opportunity presented by the regulatory process to provide input into the proposed measures," RAC officials said.

Various initiatives, such as Operation Lifesaver's educational efforts, have had a positive effect on improving safety, they said. Since an Operation Lifesaver education program was formed in 1980, crossing and trespassing accidents have fallen by 80 percent and 62 percent, respectively.

More recently, RAC teamed with the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to issue new land-use guidelines designed to promote best practices and awareness about the issues associated with development projects near railways.

"Industry-government partnerships are vital to improving rail safety measures," RAC officials said. "We are committed to working with all parties to ensure Canadians can be confident that they have the safest rail system possible."

Contact Progressive Railroading editorial staff.

More News from 9/25/2013