The Comprehensive Economic Effects of Highway-Rail At-Grade Crossing Crashes

Most analysis of the need to invest federal-aid safety funds into safety improvements at highway-rail at-grade crossings has focused on preventing fatalities, injuries, and property damage at specific priority locations. Little information has been developed about the quantifiable overall financial and social impacts of a crash involving a train and one or more motor vehicles at an at-grade crossing. Lacking such information, highway and rail system decision-makers cannot effectively consider the economic benefits of public investments to improve or eliminate at-grade crossings. While the number of at-grade crossings crashes and fatalities is a small fraction of the number of crashes and fatalities on the roadway system overall, the literature shows that a fatality is at least 20 (often more than 40) times more likely than in other crashes, and costs directly associated with the motor vehicle occupants are substantial. Other costs also accrue, such as damage to rail equipment and infrastructure and injuries to rail employees and passengers; damage to goods, especially intermodal and containerized shipments; investigative costs borne by public agencies and railroad operators; delays to transport on both affected railroads and roadways resulting from temporary, accident-caused closures, including damaged right-of-way; and clean-up of hazardous materials spills. The magnitudes of these additional costs are not well known. The 20<sup>th</sup> century highway system was laid mostly at grade on top of a 19<sup>th</sup> century rail system which has been adapted to the 21<sup>st</sup> century, leaving thousands of modal intersections that would be unjustifiable and inconceivable were the systems built in the 21<sup>st</sup> century. Recent reductions in rail track mileage, increases in rail traffic volumes, and changes in the operating strategies of freight railroads have resulted in more and longer trains concentrated on fewer route miles, slowed rail freight movement, obstacles to highway movement, increased safety risks, and bifurcation of communities, all exacerbating urban traffic circulation problems and leading to increased motorist non-compliance with warning devices and harmful outcomes. Because the entire transport system is now highly interdependent, maintaining its fluidity is a local, regional, state, and national goal. In addition to direct costs, there can be substantial indirect costs resulting from necessitated, unplanned changes in transport systems and rerouting of goods. Shipments can be transferred via trucks to highways or passengers to private automobiles and buses as an alternative when the transport system has been compromised. The National Highway Safety Administration and Federal Railroad Administration regularly provide reports which contain estimated (perhaps underestimated) costs resulting from crashes. Additional economic literature examines the potential savings from intermodal rail shipments and just-in-time deliveries. However, the lack of comprehensive understanding of the costs arising from vehicle-train collision impedes estimation of cost-effectiveness of grade-crossing changes such as elimination of a crossing, installation of active warning systems, and grade separation. Research is needed to provide a broader examination of costs associated with continued grade-crossing crashes and develop a cost model that takes into account direct costs from multiple perspectives that accrue as the result of a vehicle-train collision. The objective of this research will be to conduct such an examination and develop a usable model for evaluating the benefits of crossing changes intended to reduce crash costs. These costs must include those stemming directly from delays to rail and highway shipments along with societal costs resulting from these delays. Additionally, attention needs to be given to the role of hazardous materials incidents along with increased pollution resulting from delays and rerouting. The cost model will be helpful in making decisions regarding upgrading or eliminating at-grade crossings. The research to accomplish this objective might include the following tasks: (1) review of pertinent literature on costs of crashes and economic effects of interruptions in shipments of goods; (2) identification of the components of a crash that produce costs including (a) direct costs of damages and injuries to vehicles, trains, and goods carried, (b) costs of investigations to rail carriers and the public sector, (c) indirect costs resulting from injuries, and (d) time and costs resulting from delays; (3) development of a model that recognizes these costs and provides a simplified method of incorporating them into cost-benefit analyses of highway-rail grade crossing upgrades; (4) determination of how the model can be used specifically to enhance the Federal Highway Administration crossing-improvement resource allocations; (5) application of the model to a set of specific but typical incidents to show how the model can be used by decision makers; and (6) preparation of a summary report documenting the research findings.<p> </p>


  • English


  • Status: Proposed
  • Contract Numbers:

    Project 8-85

  • Sponsor Organizations:

    Federal Highway Administration

    1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE
    Washington, DC  USA  20590

    American Association of State Highway & Transportation Officials

    444 North Capitol Street, NW, Suite 225
    Washington, DC    20001

    National Cooperative Highway Research Program

    Transportation Research Board
    500 Fifth Street, NW
    Washington, DC  USA  20001
  • Project Managers:

    Lemer, Andrew

  • Start Date: 20100613
  • Source Data: RiP Project 26466

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01463922
  • Record Type: Research project
  • Source Agency: National Cooperative Highway Research Program
  • Contract Numbers: Project 8-85
  • Files: TRB, RiP, USDOT
  • Created Date: Jan 3 2013 2:32PM