April 25, 2011

U.S. Department of Transportation
Docket Operations M-30
Room W12-140
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 1980’s, numerous 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 equipment.

Respectfully submitted,

Dennis F. Moore/Vicky L. Moore, Trustees/Founders
The Angels on Track Foundation
8286 Clover Road, N.E.
Salineville, OH 43945
1-330-738-3198 (FAX)
Email: info@angelsontrack.org
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