National Committee Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Model Law

The National Committee on Uniforms Traffic Laws and Ordinances developed a Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Model Law to help states curtail collisions at highway-rail grade crossings.

Approximately 4,000 times per year, a collision occurs between a train and highway vehicle at one of this country's 262,000 public and private highway-rail grade crossings. Of those crossings, more than 158,000 are public at-grade crossings -- crossings at which a public road crosses railroad tracks at grade. During the years 1994 through 1998, 21,242 at-grade crossing collisions occurred in the United States, resulting in 2,574 deaths and 8,308 people injured.

Compared to a collision between two highway vehicles, a collision with a train is eleven times more likely to result in a fatality and 5.5 times more likely to result in a disabling injury. The average freight locomotive weighs between 140 and 200 tons, compared to the average car weight of one to two tons. Many freight trains weigh in excess of ten thousand tons. Any highway vehicle, even a large truck, is crushed when struck by a moving train. The train's weight, combined with the likelihood it is unable to stop to avoid a collision, make it an enormous hazard to highway vehicles.

Difficulty in stopping is an especially enormous hazard. For instance, it takes a one-hundred-car train traveling 30 miles per hour approximately one-half mile to stop; at 50 miles an hour that train's stopping distance increases to one and a third miles.

The National Committee developed a two-part approach, consisting of model code provisions that have proved their value in combating this serious problem, and optional provisions inspired by current federal regulation governing high-speed rail service on the Northeast Corridor, setting maximum operating speed of 80 mph over any highway-rail crossing with only conventional warning systems, and a maximum operating speed of 95 mph over any highway-rail crossing where 4-quadrant gates and presence detection are provided and tied into the signal system. At-grade crossings are prohibited on the Northeast Corridor if maximum operating speeds exceed 95 mph.

 Also included is optional section 11-706, banning Highway-Rail Grade Crossingsonfull-control access highways {already required by FHWA regulation - 23 CFR 646.214(c)}, and on Highway-Rail Grade Crossingson Principal Railroad Lines. This latter prohibition would be a significant departure from current law and would have to be phased-in over a number of years.

Text -- Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Model Law

 11- 700 Words and Phrases Defined

§ 11-701—Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

(a) No person shall drive onto a highway-rail grade crossing unless there is sufficient space on the other side of the crossing to accommodate that person’s vehicle without obstructing the passage of other vehicles, pedestrians or trains.

(b) Except on a one-way roadway, no one shall drive on the left side of the roadway when approaching within 100 feet of a highway-rail grade crossing unless permitted by a traffic control device, flagger or police officer.

(c) No person shall drive any vehicle through, around or under any crossing gate or barrier at a highway-rail grade crossing while such gate or barrier is closed, opening or closing.

(d) No person shall pass through, around, over or under any crossing gate or barrier at a highway-rail grade crossing while such gate or barrier is closed, opening or closing.

(e) Without lawful authority, no person shall attempt to or in fact alter, twist, deface, injure, remove or interfere in any manner with the effective operation of any highway-rail grade crossing traffic-control device or any part thereof.

§11-702- Vehicles Approaching a Highway-Rail Grade Crossing

(a) Whenever a road user approaches a highway-rail grade crossing under any of the five circumstances enumerated in this subsection, the driver shall stop before the stop line (if present) and not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of the track, and while so stopped shall listen and look in both directions along such track for signals indicating the approach of a train or other vehicle, and shall not proceed until it is safe to do so. The foregoing requirements shall apply when any of the following occur:

(b) Except for the five instances requiring a stop listed in subsection (a) or unless otherwise specified by law, regulation or the directions of a police officer, flagger or a traffic control device, a person driving a vehicle approaching a highway-rail grade crossing shall yield the right of way to any train within the crossing or approaching so closely as to constitute an immediate hazard during the time such driver is moving across or within the crossing. After stopping or yielding as required herein and proceeding when it is safe to do so, the driver shall cross only in a gear of the vehicle that will not require manually changing gears while traversing such crossing and the driver shall not manually shift gears while crossing the track or tracks.

§ 11-703 -Designated Vehicles must stop at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

(a) Except as provided in subsection (b), the driver of any vehicle described in regulations issued pursuant to subsection (c), before crossing at grade any track or tracks of a railroad, shall stop such vehicle before the stop line (if present) and not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of such track, and while so stopped shall listen and look in both directions along such track for any approaching train and for signals indicating the approach of a train and shall not proceed until it is safe to do so. After stopping as required, upon proceeding when it is safe to do so, the driver shall cross only in a gear of the vehicle that will not require manually changing gears while traversing such crossing and the driver shall not manually shift gears while crossing the track or tracks.

(b) This section shall not apply at any highway-rail grade crossing:

  1. controlled by a police officer or flagger;
  2. at which an official traffic control device provides notice that the stopping requirement imposed by this section shall not apply.
  3. A streetcar crossing, or railroad tracks used exclusively for industrial switching purposes, within a business district.
  4. An abandoned railroad grade crossing which is marked with a sign indicating that the rail line is abandoned.
  5. An industrial or spur line railroad grade crossing marked with a sign reading "Exempt." Such "Exempt" signs shall be erected only by or with the consent of the appropriate State or local authority.

(c) The (commissioner or other appropriate State official or agency) shall adopt regulations, as may be necessary, describing the vehicles that must comply with the stopping requirements of this section. In formulating those regulations, the (commissioner or other appropriate State official or agency) shall consider the operating characteristics of the vehicle, the number of passengers carried, and the hazardous nature of any substance carried in determining whether such vehicle shall be required to stop.

§ 11-704 - Moving heavy equipment at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings

(a) No person shall operate or haul any equipment or machinery (e.g., crawler-type tractor, derrick, roller, etc.) or structure having a functional operating speed over any highway-rail grade crossing of 10 or fewer miles per hour or a vertical body or load clearance of less than one-half inch per foot of distance between any two adjacent axles or in any event of less than nine inches, measured above the level surface of a roadway, upon or across any tracks at a highway-rail grade crossing without first complying with this section.

(b) Notice of any such intended crossing shall be given to the railroad dispatch center {or other appropriate entity} and a reasonable time be given to such railroad to provide proper protection at such crossing.

(c) Before making any such crossing, the person operating or moving any such equipment shall first stop before the stop line (if present) and not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail, and while so stopped shall listen and look in both directions along such track for any approaching train and for signals indicating the approach of a train, and shall not proceed until the crossing can be made safely.

(d) Crossing may not be made when warning is given by automatic signal, crossing gate, police officer or flagger of the immediate approach of a railroad train.

(e) If the railroad provides a flagger, movement over the crossing shall be under the flagger's direction.

Caution: compliance with § 11-704 in no way obviates the compliance requirements of 14-112 - -Permits for excess size and weight.

11-705 - Train Blocking Crossing

No person or government agency shall operate a train in such a manner as to prevent vehicular use of any roadway for a period in excess of (five) consecutive minutes except:

1. When necessary to comply with signals affecting the safety of the movement of trains;
2. When necessary to avoid striking any object or person on the track;
3. When the train is disabled;
4. When the train is in motion except while engaged in switching operations;
5. When there is no vehicular traffic waiting to use the crossing; or
6. When necessary to comply with a governmental safety regulation.

11-706 - Highway-Rail Grade Crossings Banned {optional}

11-707 Train speeds at Highway-Rail Grade Crossings {optional)

Every highway-rail crossing on any track segment with a maximum train speed limit in excess of (95) mph shall be grade separated.

11-708 - Active Traffic Control Signals Required {optional}

Every highway-rail grade crossing on any track segment with a maximum train speed limit in excess of {80 mph} shall be equipped with an active grade crossing warning system.

11-709 - Determination of Specific Application of Active Traffic Control Signals

An engineering study is required to determine the specific application of active grade crossing warning system at a highway-rail grade crossing. These devices shall be designed so that if they malfunction, they will do so in the mode that provides warning of an approaching train to the road user.

§11-710 -Crossbuck Signs at Highway-Rail Crossings

As a minimum, one Crossbuck sign (R15-1) shall be placed on each roadway approach to every public highway-rail grade crossing. If automatic gates are not present and if there are two or more tracks at the highway-rail grade crossing, the number of tracks shall be indicated on a supplemental Number of Tracks (R15-2) sign of inverted T shape mounted below the Crossbuck sign in the manner and at the height specified in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices.

§11-711- Stop and Yield Signs

At the discretion of the responsible State or local highway agency, STOP (R1-1) or YIELD (R1-2) signs, designed in compliance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, may be posted at highway-rail grade crossings without automatic traffic control devices, which have two or more trains per day.

§11-712 - Train Horn Requirements

Except for emergencies, locomotive horns may not be sounded in quiet zones designated by states or localities and approved by the U.S. Department of Transportation. A NO TRAIN HORN (W10-9) sign, in compliance with the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, shall be posted at each highway-rail grade crossing located in a quiet zone.

§11-713 - Temporary Traffic Control Zone Nearby

When a highway-rail grade crossing exists either within or in the vicinity of a temporary traffic control zone, lane restrictions, flagging, or other operations shall not be performed in a manner that would cause vehicles to stop on the railroad tracks even if automatic warning devices are in place, unless a law enforcement officer or flagger is provided at the highway-rail grade crossing to minimize the possibility of vehicles stopping on the tracks.