Letter to Editor
The Repository
August 29, 2004


Regarding “Ohio among few states failing to boost safety at rail crossings” (Aug, 20): Ohioans shouldn’t take lightly the dangerous recommendation the National Transportation Safety Board made for installing stop signs at crossings without gates.

While NTSB is correct that Ohio ranks traditionally as one of the top 10 states for train-car accidents and fatalities, its so-called “cheaper alternative” won’t save lives. It will, however, reduce railroads’ liability for future accidents and fatalities, and eliminate any railroad maintenance costs for safety equipment at crossings.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled (Norfolk Southern v. Shanklin) that “the use of federal funds in the installation of crossings warning devices was sufficient to preempt state law in the selection and installation of adequate warning devices….What states cannot do, once they have installed federally funded devices, is hold the railroads responsible for the adequacy of those devices.” The crossing in this case had only a crossbuck.

A movement is under way to pass legislation to require stop signs at all passive crossings. Passive crossings, without gates, are generally those with low vehicle traffic compared to high train traffic and account for the majority of all train-car accidents. If federal funds are used to install stop signs, the same preemption would apply.

The Federal Highway Administration is aware stop signs can make a crossing less safe. Federal highway rules state stop signs are allowed at crossings only if the stop sign doesn’t affect the safety of the crossing. This statement demonstrates knowledge by safety engineers that stop signs reduce safety. In addition, recommended minimum sight distances are realized using a moving vehicle, not a stopped vehicle.

One fact cannot be disputed: Numerous transportation, safety and government studies prove properly functioning gates are 90 percent effective in preventing accidents and fatalities. The question should be why is the NTSB recommending stop signs?

Trustee, Angels on Track Foundation/Crossing To Safety


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