Hundreds of millions of dollars designated to eliminate dangerous rail crossings

Federal grants will fund dozens of projects in 32 states
The federal government is allocating grant money to address blocked crossings and eliminate the danger. Reporter Joce Sterman & Videojournalist Scotty Smith.
Published: Jun. 5, 2023 at 12:41 PM EDT
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WASHINGTON, D.C. (InvestigateTV) — Around the nation, stalled trains cut off communities, block emergency responders and force children to climb over and under trains just to get to school. Now for the first time the federal government is allocating grant money to specifically address blocked crossings and eliminate the danger.

The U.S. Department of Transportation announced Monday it is awarding $570 million to projects across the country as part of the Railroad Crossing Elimination grant program. The money, which is being given to more than 60 projects in 32 states, will be used to improve safety and create ways to get around railroad tracks.

An InvestigateTV and ProPublica investigation found tens of thousands of blocked crossing complaints filed with the Federal Railroad Administration dating back to 2019. Those blockages have resulted in deaths, injuries and emergency response delays nationwide, the investigation found.

When crossings are blocked and there's no way around, kids risk their lives to get to school by crawling through trains that could start at any moment.

Additionally, there were more than 2,000 highway-rail crossing collisions last year, according to the DOT. This funding, the first round of a five-year $3 billion package included in the Biden Administration’s infrastructure law, is designed to eliminate the possibility of those collisions and other problems.

“We’re making sure infrastructure dollars, hard dollars, are going into the physical improvements that will make some of these preventable collisions, accidents and delays a thing of the past,” Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in an interview with InvestigateTV.

The federal money will address more than 400 at-grade crossings where pedestrians or vehicles encounter trains — just a fraction of the more than 200,000 that exist nationwide. Buttigieg said he considers the work an important first step.

“The important thing is to make sure they are safer, to get rid of the ones that are just unsustainable or unacceptable and to make sure the rest of them work better. We are doing that with existing funding,” Buttigieg said. “But it’s certainly going to be important, at the same time, to keep pushing on inspections, to keep pushing on enforcement, to keep holding these railroad companies accountable.”

The city of Houston is among the largest grant recipients. The city will receive $37 million to eliminate seven crossings where hundreds of blockages were reported last year. So is Alabama — it will receive $41 million for a bridge construction project near Mobile.

The city of Hammond, Indiana, which was highlighted in the original InvestigateTV and ProPublica report, was awarded $7 million for an overpass project that will deal with two of the area’s problematic crossings.

However, residents say that project will not provide solutions for a crossing near three city schools that is routinely blocked, forcing children to climb under and over stopped trains to get to class.