During 2007, North Carolina recorded 68 highway-rail collisions resulting in 5 deaths and 20 injuries.
Highway-rail incidents not only result in death and injury, but also may cause destruction of property, fires and explosions. Highway-rail crashes may cause train derailments resulting in hazardous-material spills, which often necessitate evacuations. In fact, whenever locomotive engineers apply emergency brakes attempting to avoid hitting vehicles or pedestrians, they risk derailment.
North Carolina has 4,025 public and 3,003 private crossings along 3,500 route miles. Many of those crossings are unnecessary. Existing resources cannot cover the costs of automated warning devices or bridges at all locations where highways cross railroad tracks. In addition, many crossings have vehicle and train volumes too low to justify expenditures for those purposes. When low-volume and redundant crossings are closed, the volume of traffic rerouted to adjacent crossings may justify funding for improving the remaining crossings.
In addition to improving safety for citizens, communities that close crossings can save money by eliminating installation and maintenance costs associated with warning devices, crossing surfaces and foliage removal to improve sight distance. Consolidating crossings also improves a community's quality of life by reducing noise from train horns sounded for safety at each crossing. Working together, the NCDOT and local communities have closed 145 railroad-highway crossings since 1993.
Candidates for closure
The Rail Division has worked with railroad companies and municipalities to identify crossings for possible consolidation or elimination. Candidates include:
- Crossings within a quarter mile of one another that are part of the same highway or street network.
- Crossings where vehicular traffic can be safely and efficiently redirected to an adjacent crossing.
- Crossings where a high number of crashes or near-misses have occurred.
- Crossings with reduced sight distance because of the angle of the intersection, curve of the track, trees, undergrowth or man-made obstructions.
- Adjacent crossings where one is replaced with a bridge or upgraded with new signaling devices.
- Several adjacent crossings when a new one is being built.
- Complex crossings where it is difficult to provide adequate warning devices or which have severe operating problems - such as multiple tracks, extensive railroad-switching operations, or long periods of blocked crossings.
- Private crossings for which no responsible owner can be identified.
- Private crossings where the owner is unable or unwilling to fund improvements AND alternate access to the other side of the tracks is reasonably available.
Grade crossings can be eliminated by:
- Constructing a connector road, or improving roadways along alternate routes to direct traffic to an adjacent crossing.
- Dead-ending affected streets and rerouting traffic, creating cul-de-sacs.
- Constructing bridges.
- Relocating or consolidating railroad operations.
Project Evaluation Process
The NCDOT has developed a list of criteria to determine whether a particular crossing should be improved or closed. Criteria include:
- Accident history.
- Vehicle and train traffic (present and projected).
- Type of roadway (thoroughfare, collector, local access, truck route, school-bus route or designated emergency route).
- Economic impact of closing the crossing.
- Alternative roadway access.
- Type of property being served (residential, commercial or industrial).
- Potential for bridging by overpass or underpass.
- Need for enhanced warning devices (four-quadrant gates or median barriers).
- Feasibility for roadway improvements.
- Crossing condition (geometry, sight distance, crossing surface).
- Available federal, state and/or local funding.
Federal funds and/or state highway funds can be used to improve or consolidate crossings and to defray costs associated with crossing consolidation and elimination. The NCDOT can provide details on how to apply for those funds. Financial assistance and in-kind services from railroad companies have proven to be additional resources
Greenville Rail & Transportation Improvements
Traffic Separation Study and Rail Improvements projects
NC railroad crossing statistics
Rail safety tips
Contact Nancy Horne, PE