According to data from the Federal Railroad Administration (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. Crossing incidents are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths after trespassing, and the leading cause of all railroad accidents. Risk of incidents at grade crossings grows as highway and train traffic increase. Both FRA and Members of Congress have expressed concern about these numbers despite long-term focus on the area. 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.
In 2005, we reported that FRA investigated very few crossing incidents, and in 2007, we reported that the information on grade crossing incidents in FRA’s national accident database did not always include accurate or timely information, with some incidents being reported up to 3 years late or not at all. Due to the number of grade crossing fatalities and need to update OIG’s prior work on this topic, we initiated this audit. Our objectives were to assess FRA’s (1) collection of grade crossing incident and investigation data and (2) use of these data to reduce grade crossing collisions.
What We Found
FRA has effective procedures to determine whether grade crossing incident data are complete and accurate. We also found that FRA has not updated its accident prediction formula since 2013, and lacks a comprehensive compliance manual for grade crossing teams.
We made two recommendations to ensure FRA has the tools and guidance needed to effectively identify, inspect, and improve at-risk grade crossings. FRA concurred with both recommendations.
Closed on 03.19.2020
No. 1 to FRA
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.
Closed on 02.26.2020
No. 2 to FRA
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.