Transportation Commission approves money for rail crossing improvements


November 15th, 2012 by Ric Hanson

The Iowa Transportation Commission has approved spending over four million dollars for new warning equipment at 24 railroad crossings in the state. Tammy Nicholson with the D-O-T’s rail office says the federal money is designed to improve safety where the rails cross the roadways. “A lot of them right now are just crossbucks, so there’s no flashing lights or anything, it’s all up to the highway driver to really treat it as a yield sign and look up and down the tracks to see if there is a train is coming,” Nicholson says. “What these improvements will do is add active crossing protection at those locations, so there will be flashing lights when a train is approaching and then the gate arms will come down.” In Adams County, the 2014 Highway-Railroad Crossing Safety Program means standard “Crossbuck” warning signs will be replaced with signals and gate arms at the BNSF crossing on Chestnut Avenue. The project will receive $200,000 in federal funds. In 2013, Crossbucks along 198th Avenue and 330th Street in Harrison County, will also be replaced with signals and gate arms. The projects will receive a total of $237,000 in federal funds.

Nicholson says the federal program pays for 90-percent of the cost of the improvements and either the railroad or the local government that owns the road pays the rest. The funding ranges from 150 to 200-thousand dollars. They try to target the areas where the signals are most needed. “It’s all based on a benefit-cost’s an application-based program where the railroad or the highway jurisdiction applies to the D-O-T for those funds,” Nicholson says. She says they look at how they could reduce accidents at the locations compared to the cost, along with the amount of train and car traffic at the crossings. The upgrades are scheduled for 2014 and will leave about half of the state’s rail crossings without signals.

“We still have over two-thousand-600 at-grade crossings in the state that just have the crossbuck. So this is a program where we are able to address about 20 to 25 of those crossings each year and try to make those actively warning to provide safety,” Nicholson says. The Transportation Commission has also approved some 800-thousand dollars in funds to improve the actual crossing areas on the roadways. In southwest Iowa, the BNSF crossing in Shenandoah at West Valley Avenue receive funds from the feds amounting to $125,000, and in Fremont County, $63,000 was provided through Federal Safety Funds for the BNSF crossing along the Airport Road.

“We have about 900-thousand dollars a year in state funds that we partner with the railroad and the local highway jurisdiction in order to improve those surfaces so they provide a better, smoother and safer running surface for the traveling public,” Nicholson says. The program will pay for the improvement of 12 crossings, with the state paying 60-percent of the cost.

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(Radio Iowa & Ric Hanson)