With operations across 49 states, freight trains are an ever-present aspect of life in thousands of towns and communities across the nation.
Whether at one of 200,000 highway-rail grade crossings or walking home from school, motorists and pedestrians have the potential to encounter railroad operations during the course of their daily lives. To minimize the risk of these interactions, railroads work with state, local and federal officials, safety organizations, technology companies and the public to help drive down the number of accidents and injuries on the tracks.
Railroads invest heavily in grade crossing safety, spending hundreds of millions of dollars each year to maintain crossings and many millions more on programs like public service campaigns and educational initiatives for school children, commercial drivers and others. Federal funds, available through the Section 130 program, are allocated each year to states to install new active warning devices, upgrade existing devices and improve grade crossing surfaces. Continued dedicated funding of the Section 130 program will mean more injuries averted and more lives saved at grade crossings.
Advancements in technology have given railroads and government partners a new tool to drive meaningful progress on this issue. In recent years, railroads have worked with federal regulators at the U.S. Department of Transportation and private companies — like Waze — to develop technology solutions to drive further improvement.
Thanks to these efforts, grade crossing collisions are down 32% between 2000 and 2019. Despite this progress, much work remains. Studies show that 95% of rail-related deaths are preventable — involving drivers going around warning devices or people walking on railroad tracks. That, coupled with increases in vehicles miles traveled each year and incidences of distracted driving, underscores the importance of ongoing collaboration between railroads and their government partners to develop innovative solutions to drive these incidents to zero.