The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) on Feb. 23 held a town hall meeting in Boynton Beach, Fla., to address best practices and strategies for reducing highway/rail grade crossing and trespassing incidents; officials from private-sector passenger rail operator Brightline, Florida East Coast Railway, South Florida Regional Transportation Authority (Tri-Rail), Amtrak and CSX were among those in attendance.
FRA said it called the meeting because it was “[c]oncerned with the recent spate of grade-crossing and pedestrian fatalities in South Florida.”
At Brightline, for instance, there have been three fatal accidents this month, according to an Associated Press report, which noted that none of the deaths were found to be the fault of the railroad or its crews. Florida’s five-year average of 2.84 incidents per grade crossing, compares to 1.51 nationally, according to FRA.
“It’s going to take all of us to fix this problem,” FRA Staff Director of Grade Crossing and Trespass Outreach James Payne told the group gathered at the Boynton Beach Police Department. “This is a shared responsibility.”
Payne, FRA’s Chief Safety Officer Karl Alexy and Federal Highway Administration Associate Administrator for Highway Safety Cheryl Walker led a series of presentations and conversations with regional city and county officials and railroad representatives. They discussed lessons learned, prevention measures and areas for improvement.
Paired with local, state and private investments, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL; also known as the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act) “will help close the financial gaps that often impair safety advancements,” reported FRA, which encouraged the leaders “to begin thinking about applying for grant money that will be available through [BIL], which authorizes up to $5.5 billion over five years to eliminate grade crossings and improve safety through the new Railroad Crossing Elimination program.” The new infrastructure law also provides up to an additional $10 billion for FRA’s Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Grants, a competitive program that funds a variety of rail improvements, including grade crossing and trespasser prevention efforts, the agency noted.
“Grade crossing collisions and trespassing remain the most common causes of death and injury in rail environments,” said FRA Administrator Amit Bose, who was also in attendance. “Tragically, they are also the most preventable. I’m deeply concerned with the lives lost each year. Safety is FRA’s top priority, and President Biden’s [BIL] invests heavily to advance safety initiatives.”
“We can’t solely focus on pedestrian and driver behavior,” Bose added. “We must also fulfill our shared responsibility by reducing safety risks and limiting the possibility of collision.”
“We have a shared responsibility with our federal, state and local partners and with the railroads to address grade crossing safety with both education and infrastructure investment,” said Federal Highway Administration Deputy Administrator Stephanie Pollack. “At the federal level, we are committed to partnering with all stakeholders to prevent these tragic collisions.”
In a statement following the event, Brightline said: “This safety workshop was extremely important to us as we know it takes community cooperation to combat the number of rail incidents, and the FRA called for the community to come together to help solve the problem.
“Brightline continues to prioritize safety and implore community members to stay off the tracks. We’re continuing to take steps to increase awareness around railroad safety by implementing law enforcement outreach, deploying safety ambassadors to high-trafficked crossings, and installing VMS signs at rotating crossings.
“Additionally, we’ve created and distributed tri-lingual materials and rail safety pledges, run thousands of PSAs on radio and TV, and invested millions of dollars in safety improvements such as red-light cameras as well as cutting-edge rail crossing safety technology. Our red-light cameras alone have issued more than 860 violations since November 2021, helping to improve rail safety in the communities we serve.”