The National Academies

NCHRP 08-85 [Final]

The Comprehensive Costs of Highway-Rail At-Grade Crossing Crashes

  Project Data
Funds: $349,988
Research Agency: DecisionTek, Inc.
Principal Investigator: Daniel Brod
Effective Date: 3/16/2011
Completion Date: 5/15/2013

Most analyses of the need to invest public funds in safety improvements at highway-rail at-grade crossings have focused on preventing fatalities, injuries, and property damage at specific priority locations. Little information has been developed about the comprehensive quantifiable costs of collisions involving a train and one or more motor vehicles at an at-grade crossing. Lacking such information, highway and rail system decision makers cannot effectively judge the economic benefits of public investments to improve or eliminate at-grade crossings. While the number of at-grade crossing collisions is a small fraction of the number of collisions on the roadway system overall, their impacts are disproportionately large. The literature shows that at-grade crossing collisions are 20 to 40 times more likely to involve a fatality than in other collisions, and costs associated with the motor vehicle occupants are similarly more substantial. In addition, there are costs for repair and replacement of damaged rail equipment and infrastructure; repair and replacement of damaged highway assets; injuries to rail employees and passengers; damage to goods; business interruption; investigative efforts by public agencies and railroad operators; delay and rerouting of goods and passengers on both rail lines and roadways; transfer of goods to alternate vehicles or modes; clean-up of hazardous materials spills; litigation; time spent in pubic hearings following a collision; and more. These costs are distributed among a variety of stakeholders—including railroads, state, and federal transportation agencies, as well as public safety agencies, truckers, and other private-sector users and adjacent property—and their magnitude is not well understood.
The objectives of this research were to develop (a) a categorization scheme for comprehensively describing costs associated with highway-rail at-grade crossing collisions; (b) estimates of the cost magnitudes in recent experience; and (c) an analytical framework for developing a model or set of models for forecasting these costs, considering the characteristics of a crossing and the rail and highway traffic using it. Costs to be considered included those incurred by railroads, highway agencies, shippers, travelers, businesses, and public service agencies, and others as a consequence of a collision and interruption of traffic flow.  The research team reviewed pertinent literature and current practices on measuring and estimating costs of highway-rail collisions and collision-related interruptions in shipments of goods. The team considered the full range of costs incurred by railroads, businesses, public agencies, shippers, passengers, and the public at large. Assess the availability, accuracy, and reliability of data on collision costs as they may be reported by public agencies, railroads, or other sources; and reviewed currently used models and analysis tools for forecasting crossing-collision and service-interruption costs. Based on this preliminary work, the team developed a cost framework and cost-forecasting modelling strategies.

The final report, published as NCHRP Report 755, describes the approach to cost forecasting and recommended strategy.  A spreadsheet tool developed to support application of the modelling approach is available for download from the report web page.

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