Technical Reports

Impact of Blocked Highway/Rail Grade Crossings on Emergency Response Services

  • 01
  • Aug
  • 2006
SUBJECT: Highway-Rail Grade Crossings
KEYWORDS: highway-rail grade crossings, emergency response services, blocked crossings
ABSTRACT: Given the growth in both rail and highway traffic, it is likely that the problem of blocked crossings will increase in the future. Railroads and communities around the country, working together, have crafted a number of solutions to the problem. These remedies range from grade separations, which solve the problem completely, to cooperative agreements with the railroads to notify emergency response personnel when a crossing is or may be blocked. Grade separations are expensive and generally are undertaken to address traffic problems caused by blocked crossings, although the advantages for emergency response are a factor in justifying such investments. Monitoring railroad operations, either with radars and cameras at crossings or through contact with the railroad, is much cheaper. When dispatchers are aware that a crossing is or will be blocked by a train, they can route emergency responders to alternative routes. Additionally, railroads have altered their operations in ways that reduce blockages, although often these changes increase railroad costs. Communities are the best judges of the severity of the problem of blocked crossings. Working with the railroads, they can identify the most cost-effective solution. The existence of relatively inexpensive remedies should allow most communities to take the necessary steps to mitigate the problem. Railroads must play a key role. They should actively work with communities to identify problems and propose possible remedies. Although railroads have only limited staffs available to work on community issues, this report found numerous examples of active railroad and community cooperation that resulted in projects or procedures to reduce the impact of blocked crossings.