Highway-Railroad Grade-Crossing Accidents

Highway-Railroad Grade-Crossing Accidents

There were 3,045 collisions between trains and highway users in 2004, of which 319 involved at least one fatality (figure 3-9). These 319 fatal accidents resulted in 368 fatalities, 41 percent of the 896 rail-related fatalities in 20041 [2, 3]. The geographic distribution of fatal accidents, such as the cluster around Chicago, is associated with a high number of highway-railroad grade crossings.

Despite an increase in both motor vehicle traffic and rail traffic, safety at highway-railroad grade-crossings has improved markedly since the mid-1970s. Enhanced safety reflects grade-crossing improvements, such as gates and warning signals. The reduction in the number of accidents is also related to public education campaigns, better warning lights on trains, and fewer crossing opportunities. The number of highway-rail crossings declined by more than 30 percent between 1975 and 2004 as a result of grade separation projects, crossing consolidation, and railroad track abandonment [1].


1. Shannon Mok and Ian Savage, "Why has Safety Improved at Rail-Highway Grade Crossings?" Risk Analysis (forthcoming).

2. U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Railroad Administration, Office of Safety Analysis, Highway-Rail Crossings, available at http://safetydata.fra.dot.gov/officeofsafety/, as of June 2005.

3. U.S. Department of Transportation, Research and Innovative Technology Administration, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics 2005, table 2-1, available at http://www.bts.gov/, as of August 2005.

1 At the time this report was prepared, these 2004 data were preliminary.