Audit Reports

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Rail-Highway Grade Crossing Safety

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Nearly 10 each day a train and a motor vehicle or a person collide at a rail-highway grade crossing. Grade crossing accidents often have severe consequences. While 1 in 150 highway accidents results in a death, 1 in 10 train-motor vehicle collisions is fatal. In 1998, 1,008 people were killed in railroad accidents. This included 431 who died in crossing accidents, 536 killed while trespassing on railroad property, and 41 fatalities in other rail-related accidents and incidents. Approximately half of the crossing accidents and fatalities occurred at crossings where gates, lights, or bells were in place to warn motorists of an approaching train.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) has embarked on an ambitious plan to reduce crossing and trespassing accidents, and has made substantial progress in improving grade crossing safety during the past 5 years. Unfortunately, reckless driver behavior at grade crossings continues to cause hundreds of accidents and fatalities each year. Accidents involving large trucks are particularly serious, as demonstrated in a recent accident at Bourbonnais, Illinois. That accident resulted in 11 deaths and 49 injuries when an Amtrak train derailed after colliding with a truck hauling steel that is suspected to have driven around the gates at the crossing.

The objective of this review was to assess the progress made toward achieving DOT’s 10-year goal to reduce accidents and fatalities by 50 percent, that is to no more than 2,500 crossing accidents and 300 crossing fatalities by 2004, as established by the Rail-Highway Grade Crossing Safety Action Plan.