Approximately 300 rail crossing locations on highways, city streets and county roads in Oklahoma are set to become safer and more visible. The Oklahoma Department of Transportation is putting these areas on a fast track for improvements and on Monday, Oct. 12, the Oklahoma Transportation Commission gave its approval for the first 10 of those projects to move full steam ahead. By using funds generated from the recent sale of the Sooner Sub rail line, dedicated rail safety funds from ODOT and other partners, approximately than $100 million is expected to be spent over the next three years on these improvements. Previously, ODOT had only about $8 million a year in rail safety program funds to spend which improved about 25 crossings per year.
Locations were chosen based on many factors including average daily traffic counts on the roadway and rail track, accident data, condition of the crossing and regional needs. Changes can include improved signage and active warning systems such as flashing lights, gates that will lower to help prevent traffic from entering the crossing and also audible alert devices. “The upgrades will modernize and improve the visibility and safety of the rail crossings statewide,” ODOT Executive Director Mike Patterson said. “This initiative will give drivers additional warning information of an approaching train which will help save lives and reduce the chances of a catastrophic accident.”
In 2014, Governor Mary Fallin joined with ODOT to announce the first-of-its-kind Rail Crossing Safety Initiative. The Department continues to work with rail companies and local governments to further refine the locations and needed improvements, develop project timetables and to reach agreements for the work to be performed and overseen by the rail companies at each location. “This is truly a state-wide cooperative effort between the Governor’s office, multiple rail companies, local governments and state agencies all with the sole purpose of making our rail crossings safer,” Oklahoma Transportation Secretary Gary Ridley said. “We know there are still many needs to be addressed, and hope the momentum from this initiative will spur more safety improvements in the future.”
Over the next several months, finalized agreements are expected to be brought before the Oklahoma Transportation Commission. Once locations are approved, railroad companies will be able to apply to the Oklahoma Corporation Commission for approval of the specific improvements. Depending on the needs of the specific site, crossing improvements typically can cost an average of about $350,000 per site.
Oklahoma has more than 3,700 at-grade rail crossings across the state. In 2014, 12 people were killed and 21 injured in accidents at rail crossings in Oklahoma, according to the Federal Railroad Administration and Operation Lifesaver Inc. The state ranks 20th nationally in highway-rail grade crossing collisions, according to Operation Lifesaver Inc.
A listing of more than 300 possible rail crossing candidate locations can be found online at: www.ok.gov/odot/Railroad_Crossing_Safety.html.