Federal regulators have given the 10 states with the highest number of crashes between trains and cars, trucks, buses, vans and motorcycles at railroad crossings a year to put together and start implementing plans to improve crossing safety. According to the Federal Railroad Administration, which issued the new safety rule, 1,905 crossing accidents occurred in the United States during 2009; 245 of those proved fatal to a person in the vehicle hit by the train.

The majority of those crashes happened in Alabama (AL), California (CA), Florida (FL), Georgia (GA), Illinois (IL), Indiana IN), Iowa (IA), Louisiana (LA), Ohio (OH) and Texas (TX). While some involved drivers who ignored warnings to stop for an oncoming train, a large number also occurred at places where tracks crossed roads and highways that did not have pavement markings, stop signs, red lights or gates warning drivers about the danger.

The FRA has not mandated any specific changes states need to make to ensure drivers and train crews can share roadways more safely, but the agency will work with state officials and rail industry representatives to develop solutions. The FRA is also offering grants for the repair and upgrading of crossings.

My colleagues and I have long advocated for safe rail crossings. This means removing visual obstructions like trees and bushes around track intersections, as well as installing and maintaining red lights and gates. If the states targeted by the federal order fail to do these things, they stand to loose money the FRA awards for the operation of freight and passenger rail. I hope the financial threat will spur those responsible for track safety to do the right thing.