Fischer, Colleagues Reintroduce Bipartisan Legislation to Identify and Address Blocked Railroad Crossings
March 24, 2021 | View PDF
WASHINGTON, D.C. – On March 18, U.S. Senator Deb Fischer, a member of the Senate Commerce Committee and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Surface Transportation, Maritime, Freight, and Ports, announced she was joined by Senators Jon Tester (D-Mont.), Jerry Moran (R-Kan.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Gary Peters (D-Mich.), all members of the Senate Commerce Committee, to reintroduce legislation to identify and address instances of blocked railroad crossings.
“Railroads are a key part of our surface transportation system, but when trains block railroad-highway crossings, it can be more than just an inconvenience. Blocked railroad crossings can impede first responders, and can spur hazardous behavior such as children trying to cross. Our bipartisan legislation will ensure the FRA continues to collect the data it needs to understand the extent of these blocked crossings and keep Americans safe,” said Senator Fischer said.
In Cheyenne County, communities and rural residents have complained of crossings blocked for extensive amounts of time with limited options. Rural residents west of Sidney have complained that when the crossing is closed, they have no way to or from their homes. The only option is the railroad right-of-way, which is private property.
Likewise, residents of the village of Potter have complained their community's primary entrance is blocked on occasion. Potter has two options when the crossing to Highway 30 is blocked: a dirt road east about a mile or northbound.
“Blocked highway-railroad crossings can lead to more than just heavy traffic—they can be hazardous barriers for first responders and Montana drivers attempting to access critical routes. This bipartisan bill gives Congress more data on these blocked crossings so we can ensure our highways are safer, more efficient, and can get folks where they need to go faster,” said Senator Jon Tester of Montana.
The same concern is heard in Kansas.
“Many Kansans have experienced the frustration of waiting at a blocked railroad crossing, and in some cases, this interruption can be much more damaging than just a delayed arrival home. Whether you are a first responder answering a call or a rancher transporting livestock, blocked railroad crossings can become costly or even hazardous barriers for road traffic. This legislation allows the Federal Railroad Administration to continue collecting important data on blocked railroad crossings to make certain our roads are safe and efficient for travel,” said Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas.
“With more than 4,600 railroad crossings throughout Michigan, we must expand our capabilities to monitor and address instances of blocked rail crossings. This bipartisan legislation will help the public play a more significant role in reducing and mitigating blocked crossings, which not only impede traffic for drivers but in some cases have prevented emergency responders from performing their critical duties,” said Senator Gary Peters of Michigan.
Locally, many residents are asking for an option. If a crossing needs to be blocked, offer a detour for the sake of residents and potential emergencies.
In December 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) posted its Blocked Crossing Incident Reporter portal through which the public and law enforcement could report blocked grade crossings to the agency. Senator Fischer’s bill would authorize the FRA’s blocked crossing portal as a three year pilot program, ensuring data collection continues. The FRA would be required to analyze submissions to the portal based on key criteria and provide an analysis to Congress. By authorizing the blocked crossing portal and examining the results, Congress can better understand the scope and severity of blocked crossings and develop targeted, effective policy to address them.
The bill also requires the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to evaluate the requirements of the Section 130 railway-highway grade crossing program to identify any additional flexibilities in the program that could support states’ efforts to make grade crossings safer.