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Suggested Citation:"Summary." National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2019. Prioritization Procedure for Proposed Road–Rail Grade Separation Projects Along Specific Rail Corridors. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press. doi: 10.17226/25460.
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1 S U M M A R Y Prioritization Procedure for Proposed Road–Rail Grade Separation Projects Along Specific Rail Corridors The multimodal surface transportation network of the United States, consisting of more than 4 million miles of public roadways and more than 138,000 miles of railways, intersects at grade more than 200,000 times. In 2015, there were 129,582 public highway–rail grade crossings and 80,073 private grade crossings [Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) and Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) (FRA 2018). Historically, federal funding for road– rail grade crossing separation projects has focused on safety improvements through the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) Rail Crossings Program, often referred to as the Section 130 Program. Through the first 27 years of the program, grade crossing fatalities in the United States have declined 57 percent. While the goal of zero deaths at grade crossings remains to be achieved, community requests for mobility and quality of life improvements are also fostering requests for grade separation projects. Commuters, delivery drivers, bus passengers, and emergency response personnel spend millions of hours each year waiting at highway–rail crossings for trains to pass through crossings. Vehicles idling at crossings waste fuel, create unwanted emis- sions, and reduce productivity. To address these issues, local communities are increasingly requesting state and federal funding. For example, in 2013, the newly formed Washington State Freight Advisory Committee compiled an inventory of grade separation projects from local agencies; the inventory exceeded $1.1 billion for current and emerging needs (State of Washington, Joint Transportation Committee 2016). A 2014 study by the Minnesota DOT identified 15 priority grade separations, with a funding shortfall of $243.67 million (Minnesota DOT 2014). In the current funding environment, state and local governments increasingly look to programs such as the Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) or Infrastructure for Rebuilding America (INFRA) grant programs to fund infrastructure needs such as road–rail grade separations. To be successful in these competitive grant pro- grams, applicant projects must typically demonstrate benefits across multiple criteria related to safety, economics, environment, and community livability. The goal of NCHRP Project 25-50, the subject of this report, was to identify additional criteria beyond the traditional traffic and safety factors that can help planners make better investment decisions for at-grade crossing separation projects and that allow for a more objective means of comparing project alternatives.

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TRB’s National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP) Research Report 901: Prioritization Procedure for Proposed Road–Rail Grade Separation Projects Along Specific Rail Corridors is designed to assist state and local planners in making prioritization and investment decisions for road–rail at-grade crossing separations.

The report provides a comprehensive means of comparing similar project alternatives within a specific rail corridor. Planning factors include economic, environmental, and community livability factors to support a robust decision process for making grade separation decisions.

NCHRP Report 901 also includes railroad crossing assessment tool (RCAT), a multicriteria evaluation tool that considers safety, economic, environmental, and community livability factors in a set of linked Microsoft Excel spreadsheets.

The report also includes a communications toolkit to help inform and convey to stakeholders and decision makers the relative objective merits of individual road–rail separation projects within corridors.

The assessment tool, communications toolkit, and user guide are published in electric only format as Appendix C - The RCAT User Guide, and Appendix D - The RCAT Toolkit and Templates.

During the past decade, railroad traffic has fluctuated in a number of key markets; coal traffic has declined, while other markets such as petroleum and intermodal have grown. Changing markets can impact the amount of rail traffic on rail mainlines, presenting challenges to state and local planners faced with making investment decisions about at-grade rail crossing improvements. This situation is particularly acute along urban rail corridors experiencing significant increases in train traffic or where the operating speed or train length has increased.

The traditional approach for making grade-crossing investment decisions has been guided primarily by the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration Railroad–Highway Grade Crossing Handbook, which focuses heavily on traffic and safety factors. While safety continues to be a high priority in the development of road–rail grade separation projects, state and local decision makers need more robust criteria when competing against other projects for funding and construction.

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