Ohio is a national leader in terms of railroad operations. Ohio is home to 36 freight railroads that operate thousands of trains in Ohio every day over approximately 5,300 miles of track and more than 5,700 public grade crossings. The Public Utilities Commission of Ohio (PUCO) is the state agency with regulatory authority over railroads operating in Ohio. The PUCO works in partnership with the Federal Railroad Administration to ensure that rail operations and infrastructure are safe and in compliance with federal and state regulations.
In addition to central office planners and other support staff, the PUCO employs federally certified railroad inspectors throughout Ohio. These inspectors respond to inquiries, complaints and conduct specialized inspections of railroad tracks and equipment, rail operations, hazardous material transportation and grade crossing signal circuitry. The inspectors also monitor railroad rights-of-way and grade crossings for surface conditions, view obstruction, fencing and drainage concerns, conditions on railroad equipment, at rail yards and other facilities, and related safety concerns of both the PUCO and railroad employees.
PUCO inspectors investigate all grade crossing and railroad employee fatalities, as well as monitor company inspections of rail bridges throughout the state.
Safety is our highest priority
Grade crossing safety is one of the PUCO’s highest priorities, and we are proud of our accomplishments. Since 1990, motor vehicle/train crashes at grade crossings in Ohio have declined by 80 percent and the number of fatalities has dropped by 92 percent. This dramatic improvement has been achieved during a period of steady increase in the amount of train traffic and in the number of registered motor vehicles and licensed drivers in Ohio. Over the past 10 years, the PUCO has participated in the installation of lights and gates at more than 1,000 grade crossings across Ohio. We look forward to working with your community to help make Ohio’s grade crossings as safe as possible.
Questions or concerns?
Call the Ohio Rail Hotline at (866) 814-RAIL in order to:
- Obtain information about a specific railroad crossing.
- Request information about funding for railroad crossing safety devices and other crossing improvements.
- Ask questions about railroad operation in Ohio.
- Obtain information about railroad development opportunities.
- Ask about rail corridor improvements or public grade crossing closures.
Federal crossing upgrade program
The PUCO, in partnership with the Ohio Rail Development Commission (ORDC), selects Ohio highway-railroad crossings for federally-funded upgrades based on a priority list that ranks the crossings in order of risk of accident. Criteria used in ranking each crossing relative to the risk of accident include number of tracks, average daily traffic count, crash history, number of highway lanes, maximum speed of trains and number of trains per day. While the average cost of upgrading a crossing is $200,000, the local community incurs no costs under this program.
Applying for federal funding
- After the selection process, a diagnostic survey is done at each of the crossing sites. The survey team includes the local highway authority, the ORDC, the railroads, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the PUCO.
- Each crossing must be approved by the FHWA before the PUCO can approve the crossing for funding.
- PUCO authorization requires the railroad to complete the improvement within one year of the date the Commission issues its order.
State crossing upgrade program
For crossings not eligible under the federal program, the state-funded Grade Crossing Upgrade Program allows the cost of a project to be shared between the local community, the state of Ohio and the railroad involved. Depending upon a variety of factors including the amount of daily train and motor vehicle traffic at the crossing, communities can expect to pay from 25 to 65 percent of the cost of the project.
State-funding is a means for supplementing local funding where a shortfall would otherwise result. It is not a substitute for local funding. Given the critical role of local funding to assure construction of the warning device, it is important that the community reach an agreement on the priority level of each project and make an appropriate commitment of resources. The PUCO will allocate funds based on an objective formula measuring both the seriousness of the hazard and other special conditions at the crossing.
Applying for state funding
- The local highway authority must obtain an application from the PUCO and submit it for consideration.
- A PUCO inspector will evaluate the crossing site and apply objective criteria to determine the appropriate level of funding assistance.
- A financial assistance proposal will be extended to the local highway authority and railroad for agreement. Once an agreement is reached, construction at the site can begin.
Due to the significant level of rail traffic and the number of public grade crossings in Ohio ranks among the national leaders in grade crossing crashes and fatalities. In 1991, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) announced a goal to close 25 percent of highway-grade crossings in the United States. The PUCO is committed to achieving this goal in Ohio.
Closure projects are generated from a commitment to reduce the risk of crossing incidents by eliminating unnecessary crossings in exchange for safety improvements at another crossing along the same rail corridor. Improvements such as installation of flashing lights and gates, rubber crossing surfaces, passive signage, and illumination are paid for with federal, state and railroad funds.
An agreement to permanently close a roadway grade crossing to vehicles serves as the local government’s contribution to the project, while the state provides funding for the agreed-upon upgrades. In addition, the railroad is free to offer other amenities to the local community.
Applying for the consolidation program
- The local highway authority contacts either the PUCO or the ORDC.
- A team will then survey the site, evaluate the project and contact the local highway authority and the railroad to evaluate and negotiate their level of participation.
- Typically, local authorities will hold public hearings before deciding to close a public crossing.
- An agreement will be signed by all parties and adopted by the Commission before construction. The Commission must then approve the program and issue project deadlines.
Supplemental assistance program
The PUCO administers a supplemental assistance program to provide safety enhancements at crossings at which state or federal installation of active warning devices (gates and/or lights) is pending, as well as at crossings that have only crossbucks (the standard “X” signage). The PUCO provides up to $5,000 for physical improvements around the crossing such as rumble strips, illumination, improved signage, vegetation cut-back or other safety enhancements. Local governments may erect these physical improvements as an interim measure while waiting for lights and gates to be installed, but the supplemental assistance is not used to install warning devices.
The PUCO urges local governments to determine if interim physical improvements would enhance driver awareness at the crossings until the upgrade projects are completed.
Applying for supplemental assistance
- The local highway authority can obtain an application from the PUCO and submit the application for approval.
- If the application proposes eligible projects, a contract will be prepared for the local highway authority and for the PUCO to sign. The PUCO must give final approval before construction begins.
- Once construction is completed and reviewed by a PUCO inspector, the local highway authority submits the costs for reimbursement up to $5,000.
To apply for funding, or for further information regarding the programs listed above, please contact the PUCO Railroad Division at (614) 466-1150.
For a printed brochure version of this information, please contact the PUCO Office of Public Affairs at (614) 466-7750.