Safety at highway-railroad crossings : a case study of the Austin-San Antonio corridor



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For over a decade proposals for connecting the metropolitan areas of Austin and San Antonio, Texas via passenger rail have been studied. In the Texas Department of Transportation’s 2010 Rail Plan several ideas, including high-speed rail, regional Amtrak service, and a new passenger rail service have been proposed as a means to provide an alternate mode of transportation along the I-35 corridor. Union Pacific Railroad currently owns and operations a rail line that connects the Austin and San Antonio metropolitan areas; each of the passenger rail projects proposes sharing this corridor with Union Pacific. A literature review reveals that a key factor in negotiating with a freight railroad for shared use of a corridor is safety. One element of the safety risk analysis is the evaluation of at-grade highway-railroad crossing. This study discusses the Austin-San Antonio corridor, its current mobility challenges and the proposed passenger rail projects. It then discusses rail safety as expressed in the literature and provides background about safety at highway-railroad crossings. Crossing inventory and accident data, as maintained by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), is then analyzed using regression modeling in an attempt to better understand the relationship between the physical and operational characteristics of highway-railroad crossings and accidents on corridors shared by freight and passenger rail. It analyzes a five-year accident history (2005 to 2009) from of a sample of shared use highway-rail crossings throughout the US. The findings are then used to analyze the at-grade highway-railroad crossings along the Austin-San Antonio corridor. And finally, the implications of the findings are discussed. The findings of this report recommend that characteristics of the built environment such as land use, number of traffic lanes, and function classification of the roadway should be considered when assessing accident risk at highway-railroad crossings. In addition, this analysis reveals the need for a way to better measure safety risks at private highway-railroad crossings.