Tester, Fischer Push Bipartisan Bills to Bolster Safety at Rural Train Crossings

Senators’ Right Track Act comes in the aftermath of several accidents in Montana;

Building on his efforts to make Montana roads and highways safer and more efficient, U.S. Senator Jon Tester and colleague Senator Deb Fischer (R-Nebr.) are teaming up to reintroduce two bipartisan bills improving safety at rural train crossings and addressing instances of blocked highway-railroad crossings across the U.S.

“We’ve seen far too many preventable tragedies at Montana railroad crossings, and it’s clear that we’ve got to provide rural communities with the resources they need to keep folks safe,” said Tester. “These bills will provide towns across Montana with critical investments to improve public safety surrounding railways, and help ensure Congress has the necessary data to ensure our highways are safer, more efficient, and can get folks where they need to go faster.”

“Blocked or poorly maintained railroad crossings are not only inconvenient – they can delay first responders and spur harmful behavior,” said Fischer. “These bills will ensure that federal agencies better understand the scope of grade crossing problems and that Nebraska communities have the resources they need to make grade crossings safer. They will allow Nebraskans to reach their destinations both safely and efficiently.”

Following a series of accidents at train crossings across Montana last year, including a fatal crash in Mainville in May 2020, Tester and Fischer are reintroducing the Right Track Act to bolster train safety in Eastern Montana and other rural communities.

The Right Track Act contains three major components:

  • It will help counties and states better target safety infrastructure investments by requiring the Federal Rail Administration (FRA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to provide recommendations to public and private stakeholders to reduce the number of highway-rail collisions at public at-grade crossings in counties with a population of 10 or fewer people per square mile.
  • It will increase public safety awareness by requiring the FRA and FHWA to conduct a public outreach and educational initiative to reduce collisions at grade crossings in rural counties.
  • And it will provide a dedicated pool of funding for rural crossings by increasing the authorization for the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) program by $10 million per year for five years. This funding can be used to install gates, add bells and lights, and creating overpasses at train crossings.

Tester and Fischer are also reintroducing their legislation to identify and address instances of blocked railroad crossings, aimed to increase road safety and efficiency.

In December 2019, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) opened a Blocked Crossing Incident Reporter portal where the public and law enforcement could report blocked grade crossings to the agency. Tester’s bill authorizes this portal as a three year pilot program, and requires the FRA to analyze submissions to the portal based on key criteria and provide an analysis to Congress. By authorizing the blocked crossing portal and examining the results, Congress can better understand the scope and severity of blocked crossings and develop targeted, effective policy to address them.

The Senators’ bill directs the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to evaluate the requirements of the Section 130 railway-highway grade crossing program to identify any additional flexibilities in the program that could support states’ efforts to make grade crossings safer.

Tester is Montana’s only member of the Senate Commerce Committee, which has jurisdiction over interstate common carriers, including railroads.

Full text of the Senators’ Right Track Act is available HERE.

Full text of Senators’ legislation addressing blocked railroad crossings can be found HERE.