Georgia recorded 47 highway rail crossing deaths or injuries last year — which is up from 34 in 2011 and 40 in 2010, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported Sunday. There are more than 3,300 rail crossings in Georgia that have no gates or bells to warn approaching drivers, state officials say.
“You can be on the tracks before you know it in the dark of night,” Stephens County Sheriff Randy Shirley told the newspaper. He was referring to a rail crossing in Toccoa, where three visitors from Cobb County were killed when their car was broadsided by a train in early May. “A gate would certainly make all the difference in the world there,” he said.
Rail crossings without gates are required to have crossbucks signs and local jurisdictions can also add additional signage at their discretion.
The state is given about $8 million in federal funding annually for rail crossing safety, Georgia Department of Transportation utilities engineer Michael Bolden said. Although rail crossing improvements are funded by the federal government, states individually determine where to use the money.
Officials take into account vehicle traffic, prior incidents and other factors before deciding where to install the systems — which can cost between $250,000 and $300,000 each, Bolden said.
“At the rate we’re going, you’re looking at 100 years” Bolden said of installing gates at all of the state’s crossings. He added that complete coverage isn’t a goal because some crossings are on unused rail lines or are in areas with such low traffic that officials wouldn’t be able to justify spending the money on the gates in such remote locations.
Spectrum Economics President Chris Pflaum studied the cost-benefit analysis of rail crossing gates and said the state — like most others — is aiming for maximum efficiency in terms of where its highway safety funding is allocated.
“You have a limited budget dedicated to highway safety. You want to spend those dollars so as to save the most lives,” he said, adding that trucks pose greater dangers to most people than trains do.
“Gating crossings is an emotional thing. But when you get to the cold, hard statistics, it is very different,” he said.