Railroad Crossings

Who Decides Where They Are Located?

One of the commonly held misconceptions is that railroads decide where and what types of highway crossing signals are installed.

In reality, the process is governed by a federal program since crossing signals are defined by the Federal Highway Administration as highway control devices, not railroad signals.

Railroad crossing signal installations and signal upgrades primarily are funded by federal safety funds, originally through "Section 130 funding," but more recently under other titles. The states receive an allocation of federal money each year for grade crossing improvements.

Each state is tasked to develop a system to determine a priority list for crossing safety improvements based on various factors.

Once a state determines which crossings are to be upgraded, it contacts the railroad, which meets with state and local representatives on site to review the project. The process is defined as a "diagnostic review meeting." The railroad then designs the circuitry for the specific crossing and determines a cost estimate. The state reviews the estimate and once it approves it, issues an agreement to the railroad to install the desired signals.

Costs for signal installations will vary depending on the complexity of the crossing and the sophistication of the equipment needed to meet the desired safety levels.

Ultimately, of course, the safest crossing is no crossing. An on-going goal of the railroad is to close redundant crossings.

In areas where grade separations - either underpasses or overpasses - are planned, funding methods vary. The cost can vary depending on the complexity of the site.