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Railroad Crossings

This page provides a basic overview of railroad crossing issues for local governments in Washington State, including federal and state regulations and quiet zones.


Overview

A highway-rail grade crossing is an intersection where a roadway crosses railroad tracks at the same level or grade. Such crossings may be encountered on both public and private roads. There are more than 250,000 such crossings in the U.S. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration and other agencies in the United States Department of Transportation share highway-rail grade crossing safety responsibilities. (See list of responsible federal agencies)

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is responsible for public grade crossing issues that affect highway safety. FHWA provides guidelines and standards for the correct design of grade crossings, the assessment of safety at a grade crossing, and appropriate placement of traffic control devices at and on the approach to a grade crossing. These traffic control devices include circular advance warning signs, crossbucks (the familiar x-shaped signs), pavement markings, and, in some locations, bells, gates, and flashing lights as described in the FHWA's Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD).

States determine which public crossings are in need of improvements, and determine what those improvements will be. In order to make these improvements, states rely heavily on federally supplied funds authorized in Title 23 United States Code (23 U.S.C.) Section 130 (which are called “Section 130 funds”.) The FHWA also administers the distribution of Section 130 funds.


Program Information

  • Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety, Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration - This website provides a compendium of highway-rail grade crossing safety information for drivers, motor carriers, and users of commercial motor vehicles.
  • Railway-Highways Crossing (Section 130) Program, Federal Highway Administration - Provides funding for the elimination of hazards at railway-highway crossings. The funds are apportioned to States by formula.
  • Highway-Rail Grade Crossing and Trespass Prevention, Federal Railroad Administration - Page links to Federal Regulations about Railroad Crossings.
  • Operation Lifesaver (OLI) - A non-profit organization providing public education programs to prevent collisions, injuries and fatalities on and around railroad tracks and highway-rail grade crossings.
    • Washington Operation Lifesaver (WAOL)- WAOL is part of a national program known as Operation Lifesaver, Inc. (OLI) It is sponsored by: BNSF Railroad, Washington Utilities and Transportation Commission, Washington State Patrol, Washington State Dept. of Transportation, AMTRAK, Union Pacific Railroad, Sound Transit, Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, Federal Railroad Administration, Washington Traffic Safety Commission, Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, and the United Transportation Union
  • BNSF Railroad--Grade Crossing Safety

Regulations

Federal

State


Quiet Zones

Under the Swift Rail Development Act of 1994 (49 U.S.C. § 20153), the Federal Railway Administration (FRA) proposed regulations governing the use of locomotive horns at highway-rail grade crossings. The FRA issued a Final Rule for the "Use of Locomotive Horns at Highway-Rail Crossings" on August 17, 2006.

The rule requires that locomotive horns be sounded as a warning to highway users at public highway-rail crossings. Although the federal rule will preempt state and local laws governing the same subject matter, the rule allows local governments to create "quiet zones," provided that certain safety improvements are in place. See Bellingham Train Horns - Frequently Asked Questions.


Automated Railroad Crossing Safety Cameras

State law authorizes cities and counties to use automated traffic safety cameras to issue tickets in limited situations, including at railroad crossings. For more information, see our page Automated Traffic Enforcement Cameras.


Last Modified: September 18, 2019