The US Department of Transportation's Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is awarding more than $570 million in Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program funding to 32 states, including two projects in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

The initial round of funding from the $3 billion, five-year program will be used for 63 projects, said Mitchell Landieu, White House Coordinator for the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

According to the US Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg, the inaugural round of funding will address more than 400 at-grade crossings around the US to improve safety and make it easier to get around railroad tracks by adding grade separations, closing at-grade crossings, and improving existing at-grade crossings where train tracks and roads intersect. 

Last year in the US, there were more than 2,000 highway-rail crossing collisions and more than 30,000 reported blocked crossings to the FRA's public complaint portal.

The funding for the program is part of the President Biden's bipartisan infrastructure law, the first-ever dedicated grant program to help communities eliminate points where railroad tracks intersect with roads, which have blocked the vehicle and/or pedestrian traffic, led to deadly vehicle-rail collisions and/or prevented first responders from reaching emergencies.

"Every year, commuters, residents, and first responders lose valuable time waiting at blocked railroad crossings—and worse, those crossings are too often the site of collisions that could be prevented,” said Buttigieg.

One reporter from Cincinnati asked if the US Department of Transportation should be responsible for inspecting railroad bridges, as with highway bridges, as another safety concern involving railroads.

FRA Administrator Amit Bose said that the Department is open to the idea, but it is ultimately a matter for Congress.

Earlier this week, WFMJ's Corey McCrae reported on Newton Falls resident's concerns over a railroad overpass that was showing visible signs of deterioration and hoping to avoid a derailment like what happened in the city in 2012, or a more serious derailment that happened in nearby East Palestine in February.

21 News followed up with a question to the members on the rail safety conference call, including Buttigieg and Bose reiterating the question based on our reporting whether railroads owners, who own the bridges,  should be looked at closer, based on the Newton Falls story and the East Palestine derailment which was reportedly caused after a wheel bearing on a railcar rapidly overheated and hot box detectors reported miles apart by the preliminary by the National Transportation Safety Board.

Bose said, "We will definitely keep track; we are keeping track of bridges in that area. One thing to keep in mind, in the Ohio area and beyond, FRA - under the direction from the Secretary [Buttigieg] - we are monitoring even more closely and inspected, high-hazardous flammable train routes and those routes with high volumes of hazardous materials, and that includes bridges."

The newly announced funding is part of the plan initiated from complaints from citizens, states and localities regarding the delays and disruptions from frequently blocked crossings causing traffic disruptions and blocking first responders from getting to emergencies in a timely manner.

“The Railroad Crossing Elimination Grant Program is another critical tool that FRA is using to make a lasting impact on the safety and transportation needs of communities nationwide,” said Bose. “With these project selections and the many more that are to come, we will save lives and reshape infrastructure in ways that allow individuals to move through their neighborhoods seamlessly and safely.”

Here are some of the announced railroad projects in Ohio and Pennsylvania:

  • OHIO – 2 projects totaling $10,245,000; Butler County and Fosteria
  • PENNSYLVANIA – 2 projects totaling $16,438,596; Philadelphia and Berks County.