April 25, 2011
U.S. Department of Transportation
Docket Operations M-30
1200 New Jersey Avenue, S.E.
West Building, Ground Floor
Washington, DC 20590
RE: Proposed System for Reporting Unsafe
Rail-Highway Crossing Conditions – Docket # FRA-2009-0041
To Whom It May Concern:
The Angels on Track Foundation, a privately-funded
railroad safety organization in Ohio, submits the following
comments in response to the Federal Railroad Administration’s
(FRA) Proposed Rule to increase safety at rail-highway crossings.
As history shows, as far back as the
proposals and acts have been passed or proposed to address
the same issue (Highway-Rail Action Plan-1994, signs erected
at crossings by some major railroad companies on a voluntary
basis-1996, The Federal Railroad Safety Enhancement Act-1999,
Emergency Notification of Grade Crossing Problems-2006, Railroad
Safety Enhancement Act, Section 205- 2007, and recently HR
2095-2008 (to name a few). Rehashing the same safety concern
without taking concrete steps to eliminate the danger, has
no impact on public safety. A reliable system for the public
to report dangers at crossings is needed. Here in Ohio, our
Foundation has developed such a system. Citizens from Ohio
can immediately report a danger (activation failures, false-activations,
sight obstructions, blocked crossings, no horn, etc.,) by filling
out a Dangerous Crossing Report off of our website. Emails
are sent immediately to the Ohio Public Utilities Commission,
Ohio Rail Development Commission, and our Foundation. When
federal mandates are reported with respect to signal function
or railroad operating rules, the FRA is also copied. Nothing
less should be proposed to report dangers that exist at our
nation’s railroad crossings with public rail-highway
grade crossings in use, no matter public, private, ports, dock
facilities, or rail yards.
The current modified system in place
to report unsafe crossings is not working. Relying on railroad
companies to self-report/identify and remove hazards is unrealistic.
The current system does not provide the “public” access
to the necessary tools needed to identify unsafe conditions.
The proposed rule misses the opportunity
to prevent a tragedy by considering “waiting times” for
answering calls. Since the FRA requires “immediate
telephonic notification” to
the National Response Center (NRC) after a fatality or
serious accident, public calls reporting unsafe conditions
before a potential tragedy should also receive immediate attention.
(Title 49 CFR Part 225).
The proposed rule limits reportable
conditions to four (4); while vaguely touching base on various
other conditions that “could
be” deemed unsafe. Any hazard that affects the safety
of the motoring public should receive an immediate response
and thorough investigation by the railroad company owning and
maintaining the crossing. Minimum maintenance, inspections,
and testing of crossing warning systems are not acceptable.
Because railroad companies share ownership of each crossing,
they have a shared responsibility to ensure every crossing
is safe and is maintained to provide maximum protection free
of unsafe conditions.
There is some confusion as to why the
proposed rule has been labeled a means for the “public” to report unsafe
conditions at rail-highway crossings, when in fact; only those
submitted by a railroad employee, law enforcement officer,
highway traffic official, or other employee of a public agency
acting in an official capacity can be defined as “credible.” Restricting
those that can report a danger at a crossing totally defeats
the purpose of the proposed rule allowing the public to report
an unsafe condition before a collision or fatality occurs.
With respect to view obstructions as
a reportable unsafe condition, current regulations only protect
railroad employee and railroad operations at/along railroad
track. Because no federal law exists for public safety, and
not all states have adopted their own statutes to address
this danger, the American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO), Federal
Highway Administration (FHA) 1986 Handbook recommendations
should apply. To consider “reasonable distances in either
direction,” does not take into account fastest train/vehicle
speeds permitted. If permanent structures exist that cannot
be removed, gates should be installed or train speeds should
be lowered to compensate for reduced sight clearances. If a
state statute exists that requires a greater distance than
the recommended ASHTO/FHA sight requirements, the greater of
the two distances should apply. Anything less constitutes a “Band
Aide” approach to safety. Vegetation/sight distance inadequacies
have been a major concern with regard to grade-crossing safety
for years. It’s time for a national standard to be adopted
that provides maximum protection for public safety at all crossings.
The FRA has proposed permitting the use of third-party telephone
services by railroads to report unsafe conditions. This is
based solely on cost-saving
measures in the railroads’ interest. When costs are measured
against the potential to increase public safety, public safety
looses. Because it has been stated that by using a (third party)
service the “railroad” is no longer
considered to be receiving calls ‘directly’, this
in no way should relieve a railroad of its common law responsibility
to maintain a safe crossing. Claims that calls were not received,
do not constitute a safe crossing, or eliminate responsibility.
Railroads are required to inspect their tracks weekly, bi-weekly,
depending on the gauge of track. At the same time, they should
be examining their rights-of-way for hazards and signal equipment
for proper function. The absence of calls from the public reporting
unsafe conditions (at crossings) should not be considered a
benchmark of a safe crossing or that dangers do not exist.
It should also be mandated for railroad companies to provide
documentation of all calls received to state agencies responsible
for selecting crossings for upgrades/enforcement of railroad
law. This would eliminate the possibility of railroad companies
denying accountability or liability for unsafe conditions.
Allowing calls only to be documented internally by the very
railroads responsible for unsafe conditions that might be reported,
would allow a system of unreliable documentation of unsafe
conditions at crossings.
And finally, because the U.S. DOT National Crossing Inventory
will be used to identify crossings reported, it is vital that
all information in the database be accurate and up-to-date.
Our Foundation has found many instances where the name of a
crossing, DOT #, number of trains, number of school buses,
etc., was inaccurate or even missing. It is also vital that
the railroad company owning the crossing be noted to document
responsibility for the crossing and maintenance of the signal
Dennis F. Moore/Vicky L. Moore, Trustees/Founders
The Angels on Track Foundation
8286 Clover Road, N.E.
Salineville, OH 43945
Bad Crossings Kill Good Drivers ®
Gate It – Or Risk It ®