June 5, 2023

FRA grants $570M to projects eliminating railroad crossings


The Federal Railroad Administration has awarded more than $570 million in grant funding toward 63 projects nationwide that seek to eliminate blocked highway-grade crossings.

The projects that received funding through the railroad crossing elimination grant program represent 32 states and seek to add grade separations, close at-grade crossings or improve existing at-grade crossings where train tracks and roads intersect. 

The infrastructure law passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden was responsible for bringing about the “first-ever dedicated grant program” on railroad crossings, according to FRA. The agency estimates that more than 2,000 highway-rail crossing collisions occurred in the U.S. in 2022, with more than 30,000 blocked crossings reported via FRA’s public complaint portal.

The issue of blocked crossings has garnered national media attention recently, with reports by The Washington Post and ProPublica alluding to situations in which blocked crossings hampered emergency responders or caused citizens to climb in between rail cars. Houston-area officials also testified during last fall’s Surface Transportation Board hearing on the Canadian Pacific-Kansas City Southern merger about schoolchildren trying to cross an intersection while a train was stopped over it.

FRA said Monday in announcing the grant awardees that $15.7 million of the grant funding went toward planning activities, while $33.1 million went for project development and design activities that would create lists of projects potentially eligible for future funding. Projects occurring in rural areas or tribal lands garnered 22% of all funding, or about $127.5 million. 

A full list of projects receiving funding is available here. More funding from the grant program will be provided annually over the next four years.

Nine projects involving freight rail operations received about $20 million or more in funding: 

  • Railroad crossing elimination on Shelby County Road 52, city of Pelham, Alabama ($41.8 million). The project will construct a bridge over CSX’s (NASDAQ: CSX) rail line and eliminate two existing at-grade crossings. FRA said the safety improvements will “strengthen the State’s supply chain, as more than 30 daily trains destined for the Port of the Mobile travel the CSX line through Pelham.” 
  • 32nd Street underpass project, city of Washougal, Washington ($40.5 million). The project will include the design of a new rail bridge and underpass that will help reduce vehicle-train collisions at five key intersections. The rail right-of-way is owned by BNSF (NYSE: BRK-B). FRA said the project will also “help reduce freight rail bottlenecks and move goods more reliably and efficiently,” in addition to improving the safety and accessibility of the 32nd Street corridor.
  • Phase 1 of the West Belt improvement project, Houston ($36.9 million). FRA said the project will fund a 9,000-foot sealed corridor, construct four underpasses, close four at-grade crossings and eliminate more than 850 incidents of train blockages. The project’s ultimate goal is to create a 14,600-foot sealed corridor along the Houston Belt & Terminal Railroad’s (HB&T) rail line. HB&T connects to Union Pacific (NYSE: UNP) and BNSF, and the rail line provides trackage rights to those two rail carriers. 
  • SH-53 Pleasant View grade separation project, Idaho ($36 million). The project, which will be managed by the Idaho Department of Transportation, seeks to construct a highway interchange and highway-rail grade separation at the intersection of State Highway 53 and Pleasant Valley Road in Hauser, Idaho. The project will close three existing railroad crossings along a two-mile segment of BNSF’s corridor. 
  • Santa Teresa at-grade separation, Dona Ana County, New Mexico ($31.2 million). FRA said the project will involve right-of-way acquisition and the design and construction of a grade-separated roadway over UP’s rail line. Forty trains per day pass through the existing crossing.
  • 42nd Street grade separation, North Dakota ($30 million). The project, which will be managed by the North Dakota Department of Transportation, seeks to design and construct a grade separation as well as a 10-foot shared-use path near the University of North Dakota. Delays sometimes occur in the area because of the nearby Grand Forks rail yard operated by BNSF. 
  • Third Street SE and Norfolk Southern Railroad (NYSE: NSC) grade separation, city of Cleveland, Tennessee ($27.5 million). The project will involve right-of-way acquisition and the development and construction of a grade-separated flyover bridge that will replace the existing at-grade crossing. 
  • U.S. 90 grade separation project, Texas ($19.6 million). The Texas Department of Transportation will oversee a project that will construct a grade-separated bridge that will replace two at-grade rail crossings along Waco Street. The railroad crossings occur at existing UP tracks. 
  • West Side grade separation project, city of Monroe, Michigan ($24 million). The project involves right-of-way acquisition and the design and construction of the Monroe West Side grade separation with CSX. It will eliminate an existing grade crossing. 

In response to the funding announcement, Association of American Railroads (AAR) President and CEO Ian Jefferies said in a Monday release: “The safest, best crossing is no crossing at all. The projects selected for this initial round of investment will advance safety and reduce traffic delays, while also keeping goods moving across the nation. Everyone wins through this type of smart infrastructure investment, and railroads are proud to support this transformational program.”

AAR added that it has been working with local road authorities, private property owners and U.S. Department of Transportation to identify grade crossings that can be consolidated, updated or closed, and that the total number of at-grade crossings in the U.S. has declined by 10 percent since 2005.

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