DEPARTMENT OF TRANSPORTATION
Federal Railroad Administration
Proposed Rule for the Use of ) Docket No. FRA-1999-6439
Locomotive Horns at Highway ) RIN 2130-AA71
Rail Grade Crossings )
THE OHIO RAIL DEVELOPMENT COMMISSION
On Thursday December 18, 2003, the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) issued an Interim Final Rule (“IFR”) and a request for comments in the above-captioned proceeding. The IFR implements section 222 and 229 of Chapter 49 of the Code of Federal Regulations (“CFR”). These sections pertain to the requirement that a locomotive horn be sounded while a train is approaching and entering a public highway-rail crossing.
The Ohio Rail Development Commission (“ORDC”) is an independent commission within the Ohio Department of Transportation charged with the development, promotion, and support of safe, adequate, and efficient rail service throughout the State of Ohio. Since it’s inception in 1994, the ORDC has managed the federal funds allocated for the elimination of hazards at railroad grade crossings. Over 150 million dollars have been invested and over 1000 warning device installations completed. The ORDC is proud of Ohio’s advancements in the railroad grade crossing safety arena. Hundreds of Ohioan’s lives have been saved and countless needless injuries have been prevented due to the aggressive safety programs administered by the ORDC and other Ohio state agencies. In 2003, Ohio recorded the lowest number of grade crossing fatalities in a century, 9, down significantly from the average of over 17 fatalities a year from 1998 to 2002.
The ORDC recognizes the increasing importance of providing relief to communities bombarded with an inordinate amount of locomotive horn noise. We applaud the FRA for rising to the congressional challenge to develop policies that will guide our nation through the creation of consistent quiet zones. It is most certainly important to provide Ohio communities the ability to achieve an acceptable quality of life for their population. However, with that being said, the ORDC believes the small changes to the IFR, changes which would not add prohibitive costs or onerous administrative burdens on communities seeking quiet zones, are necessary. As it is written now, the ORDC believes the FRA Interim Final Rule is in direct conflict with the State of Ohio’s zero tolerance approach to grade crossing safety. By modifying the IRF, it would better fit with Ohio’s approach.
The ORDC believes the FRA has dramatically and significantly changed the Interim Rule published several years ago. The FRA has introduced a new concept to the quiet zone discussion rule which would in some situations enable local communities to quiet train horns at crossings without compensating for the lost safety benefits of sounding the train horn. The new Interim Rule goes so far as to allow the level of existing safety at specific crossings to be reduced to accommodate the implementation of a quiet zone. While ORDC understands the quality of life issues associated with the this, it finds this trade-off to be a major change from the previously published Interim Rule and presents a potentially life threatening situation to Ohio motorists. ORDC encourages the FRA to closely examine the comments and concerns of the ORDC and other state officials who are charged with the safety of the traveling public and add standards and qualifications to the IFR to address those concerns.
A. Supplemental Safety Measures should be required at all public at-grade crossings within a quiet zone.
First and foremost, the ORDC is opposed to the very idea that the FRA considers the Nationwide Significant Risk Threshold (“NSRT”) a permissible threshold of risk for quiet zones. The act of silencing the train horn without engineering improvements to compensate for the loss of the horn is incompatible with ORDC’s zero tolerance approach to grade crossing safety. The ORDC sees the averaging of safety at crossings within a corridor as grossly inadequate and most certainly creating a dangerous situation for the traveling public. Sound engineering practices must be implemented at each and every grade crossing within a quiet zone or the train horn should not be silenced. Section 222.39(a)(1) should stand alone as the only mechanism by which a community establish get a quiet zone. The Quiet Zone Risk Index (“QZRI”) in comparison to the NSRT or as a one-on-one comparison to a hazard level at or below the risk level which would exist if the horn sounded affords a community far too much latitude and room for crucial, and perhaps even fatal mistakes. The area of railroad grade crossing safety is a very specialized and highly technical one combining traffic engineering and railroad signal systems. The ORDC believes that very specific engineering standards must be provided to the communities considering quiet zones. The flexibility offered in parts 222.39 (2) and 222.39 (3) of the IFR will most certainly increase the risk at grade crossings in the State of Ohio.
B. Supplemental Safety Measures require additional detail and qualifications.
While the ORDC supports the Supplemental Safety Measures as identified and defined in the IFR, we believe additional clarification needs to be added as minimum guidelines to the local highway authority selecting the SSM’s. In all cases, the SSM should include the use of a backup system to provide audible warning in the event of a system failure. This does not have to be a complicated apparatus, merely a simulated horn in the event of a failure of the SSM. In addition, the ORDC offers the recommendations below for each specific SSM.
1. Temporary Closure of a Public Highway - Rail Grade Crossing
Specific guidance should be provided to a community selecting temporary closure as a SSM for a quiet zone. First, it must be made clear that closure devices should be provided for each approach to the highway - rail grade crossing including one-way streets. A closure device should also be added for sidewalks if they exist at the crossing. Secondly, the IFR makes no provision for the monitoring of the closure mechanism. A method should be provided to insure the closure device is properly deployed and locked to prevent user entrance to the crossing. While it is true the IFR assigns the full responsibility to the community, there is no way for the locomotive engineer to know if the device is deployed. A simple monitoring device should include an indicator, that is visible to the train crew prior to occupying the highway-rail grade crossing. The indicator should be illuminated only when the quiet zone is in effect and the device is deployed.
2. Four Quadrant Gate System
While the ORDC understands the rationale of assigning a lower effectiveness ranking for a four quadrant gate system with a vehicle detection system, we see this determination as flawed and could be potentially detrimental to the community selection process for SSM’s. In many situations a vehicle detection system is critical to the safe operation of four quadrant gates. The current effectiveness ranking acts as a disincentive for its use.
Where a four quadrant gate system is required by the public authority to establish a quiet zone, additional criteria should be taken into account and detailed to the project manager. A warning device monitoring system should be installed. This should include verification of the correct position of all entrance and exit gate arms in both raised and lowered positions, the installation of remote reporting equipment to provide notification of system status and the installation of a status indicator, visible to the train crew. Warning time requirements should be closely reviewed and considerations made for the operation of all entrance and exit gates, even if dynamic mode is utilized, and traffic signal preemption times should be properly calculated and plotted to insure proper operation of queue clearance.
3. Gates With Medians or Channelization Devices
ORDC believes that the cost of all SSM’s aside median barriers and channelization devices will be very high. ORDC believes this monetary issue will force communities seeking a quiet zone to gravitate to median barriers and channelization devices as the SSM of choice. Specific guidelines should be addressed in the IFR as to the minimum specifications of median barriers and channelization devices. Unfortunately, Ohio has experienced drivers choosing to by-pass properly functioning gates and lights, resulting in grade crossing crashes. In 2002, of the 127 crashes at Ohio crossings, 47 occurred as a result of motorists driving around gates.
The ORDC believes that the traffic lane delineators should not be allowed as channelization devices. Channelization devices do not “deny the option of circumventing the approach lane gates.” Channelization devices or “delineators” are easy to drive through and can easily be broken raising maintenance issues regarding the integrity of the quiet zone SSMs. The FRA’s statement in Appendix A to Part 222-3.g. “Break-away channelization devices must be frequently monitored to replace broken elements” is not sufficient. ORDC believes that FRA must require some manner of permanent curbing be required in any median barrier or traffic channelization SSM. Curbing is not a prohibitively expensive SSM. The extra safety benefit it provides is very cost effective.
4. One Way Street With Gates
Where a one-way street with gates is required by the public authority to establish a quiet zone, the criteria outlined above in B-2 should be taken into account with the exception of the issues on exit gates. In addition, back lights on all signal masts should be provided for pedestrian warning.
5. Wayside Horns
While the ORDC recognizes that the wayside horn is intended to be used as a direct replacement of the locomotive horn, both as a stand alone device or within a quiet zone, we do recommend one addition to the IFR language. Where a wayside horn is required by the public authority to establish a quiet zone, an installation of a battery backup system to provide audible warning in the event of a local power failure should also be required.
C. The ORDC believes the elimination of the state role in the Quiet Zone process is detrimental to grade crossing safety in the State of Ohio .
Through the IFR, the FRA has eliminated the role of State agencies from the Quiet Zone process with the exception of the rudimentary inclusion in 222.37 (c). The ORDC believes that local state agencies in Ohio, namely the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (“PUCO”) and the ORDC, should be afforded the opportunity to review and approve quiet zones that occur within our state. The ORDC does not believe the FRA has sufficient resources for the oversight of quiet zones. In fact, the IFR lacks in defining how oversight will be accomplished.
To support this assertion, the State of Ohio has gone to tremendous lengths to update our inventory of public at-grade crossings in the state. Nearly 2 million dollars have been expended in updating the physical data for Ohio crossings. Project Managers at both the PUCO and ORDC spend countless hours updating and correcting data. The way the IFR is currently written there is no review by any state agency to ensure that accurate data is included in the Quiet Zone Risk Index. The ORDC opposes the IFR on this ommission and respectfully reminds the FRA that the State of Ohio has yet to be able to update individual variables in the National Inventory with our more current data. The current process that the FRA finds acceptable entails updating all variables on the crossing inventory, or none at all.
A final issue in regard to State involvement in the process concerns the fact that local communities are solely charged with the implementation of a quiet zone bypassing the expertise of state agencies tasked with grade crossing safety. In the State of Ohio, as with many other states, there are already existing state agencies who have expertise and resources to address rail-highway grade crossings. The procedure as set forth does not give communities a process to access all of its available resources for rail-highway grade crossing safety issues.
D. The ORDC believes necessary modifications to the National Manual of Uniform Traffic Control Devices (“NMUTCD”) should take place as soon as possible after the IFR becomes effective.
Throughout the IFR, the MUTCD is referenced some thirteen times. The IFR points to direction from the MUTCD. In the case of Appendix A to Part 222, 1.d., the IFR refers to barricades and signs being in conformance with the standards contained in the MUTCD, and yet there is no guidance nor standard in the Manual for this situation.
The ORDC is active in national highway-rail grade crossing safety organizations. Staff of the ORDC hold seats on the Railroad Technical Committee of the NCUTCD, Transportation Research Board Committee A3A05, American Railway Engineering and Maintenance of Way Association (“AREMA”) Committee 36, National Cooperative Highway Research Program Projects 3-76A - Highway-Highway Intersections Adjacent to Highway-Rail Grade Crossings and 3-76B - Low Cost Active Warning Systems for Highway-Rail Grade Crossings, and AASHTO Standing Committee of Rail Transportation (“SCORT”). Our collective knowledge of railroad grade crossing safety issues should be taken into account when we express significant concern over the lack of clarity and information in the MUTCD to govern the installation of traffic control devices and equipment to guide the vehicular driver across or around a grade crossing within the confines of a Quiet Zone. The ORDC requests that FRA immediately begin working with the NCUTCD
to adopt necessary modifications to the Manual to address SSM’s within Quiet Zones. While the ORDC recognizes that the FRA has been charged with the promulgation of the Quiet Zone Rule, we respectfully suggest that the FRA does not govern the rules and regulations that stipulate the use of traffic control devices. While the ORDC does not have a complete list of the possible modifications necessary to the MUTCD, we believe the following areas are likely: standards for median barriers and channelization apparatuses; standards for closure barricades; direction on four quadrant gate vehicle detection systems; and direction on pedestrian crossings.
E. The ORDC believes the requirement of Constant Warning Time and inclusion of Wayside Horns in lieu of locomotive horns is beneficial.
Through the IFR, the FRA stipulates that the minimum acceptable warning device at a public crossing within a Quiet Zone is automatic lights and roadway gates with Constant Warning Time. The ORDC believes this is beneficial to highway-railroad grade crossing safety and supports this initiative.
The ORDC is aware of several communities in Ohio that desire to use the Wayside Horn within their jurisdiction. The ORDC supports the FRA position on the use of the Wayside Horn, both inside Quiet Zones and at stand-alone locations.
While ORDC understands the need for a consistent mechanism to establish quiet zones throughout the country, ORDC respectfully submits these comments and concerns for the IFR as written. ORDC appreciates the FRA’s work in developing the interim rules. Thank you for the opportunity to comment.
Chairman Executive Director
Ohio Rail Development Commission Ohio Rail Development Commission
50 West Broad Street, 15th Floor 50 West Broad Street, 15th Floor
Columbus, OH 43215 Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 644-0306 (614) 644-0306
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