FRA Issues Final Rule on Emergency Notification Systems at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

The rule requires that railroads must establish Emergency Notification Systems (ENS) by installing clear and readable signs with toll-free telephone numbers at crossings.

U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood recently announced new regulations requiring railroads to install signs at highway-rail grade and pathway crossings with telephone numbers the public can use to alert railroad companies to unsafe conditions.

“Safety is our highest priority,” LaHood said. “The sooner railroads can be made aware of potentially unsafe conditions, the faster they can respond to ensure the safety of everyone driving over or walking across highway-rail crossings.”

Under the final rule published in the June 12 Federal Register, railroads must establish Emergency Notification Systems (ENS) by installing clear and readable signs with toll-free telephone numbers at crossings so the public can report unsafe situations and for railroads to respond to malfunctioning warning signals, vehicles stalled on the tracks, or other emergency situations. Depending on a railroad’s operating characteristics, calls may be received through a 24-hour call center, or for smaller railroads, through an automated answering system or third-party telephone service.

“The signs will help reduce the risk of certain highway-rail crossing collisions,” said Federal Railroad Administrator Joseph C. Szabo. “They will tell the public who to contact if they come upon a vehicle stalled on the tracks or see problems involving flashing lights and gates.”

Upon receiving a call, the dispatching railroad is required to contact all trains authorized to operate through the crossing, inform local law enforcement to assist in directing traffic, investigate the report, or request that the railroad with maintenance responsibility for the crossing to investigate the report. If the report is substantiated, the railroad is required to take certain actions to remedy the unsafe condition.

Based upon comments received in response to its proposed rule, railroads without an existing e ENS will have until July 2015 to establish one. Railroads that currently have an ENS in place may be able to retain existing signs, or will have until July 2015 or July 2017 to replace signs depending upon several factors.

There are approximately 211,000 public and private highway-rail and pathway grade crossings in the United States. Many major freight and commuter railroads have systems in place to receive emergency reports. This new rule builds upon the experience gained through previous voluntary, state, federal, and industry experience. Section 205 of the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008 required FRA to issue the regulation.

The final rule can be viewed here.

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