Since 1974, the federal government has allocated funds to the State of Minnesota to pay for its Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Safety Improvement Program. The Minnesota Department of Transportation, the Rail Administration Section and the Office of Freight and Commercial Vehicle Operations work cooperatively with the counties, cities, townships and railroads to maintain and update the state’s railroad-highway transportation infrastructure.
To date, out of the nearly 4,200 public railroad-highway grade crossings strewn all across the state, more than 1,500 of them have been outfitted with active warning devices that were paid for by federal funds and then matched with state or local funds. Projects that can be eligible for this type of funding are ones that help to maintain and update the various types of crossing signals and ones that cover crossing closures and their consolidations. Additionally, any maintenance and upgrades that remove visual obstructions or projects that improve crossing safety are also eligible for funding.
The Rail Administration Section has poured a majority of its resources into programing upgrades to warning devices in an effort to increase overall safety at the most dangerous crossing locations. High hazard locations are identified using a formula that predicts the frequency of railroad-highway accidents using the following variables; the type of warning device that currently exists, the amount of highway and train traffic that travels through the crossing, the type and size of the highway and the accident data for the last five years.
The state’s effort to improve safety at railroad-highway crossings has been extraordinarily successful. Train accidents have been reduced from an average of about 400 vehicle-train collisions and about 50 deaths annually in 1972 to 26 vehicle-train collisions and four vehicle related deaths in 2012.