Few Texas low-ground railroad crossings appear in federal data

NTSB team arrives at site of grade crossing collision in Biloxi. (NTSB photo via Twitter)
NTSB team arrives at site of grade crossing collision in Biloxi. (NTSB photo via Twitter)

AUSTIN (KXAN) — Federal transportation safety investigating the train and bus collision in Biloxi, Mississippi are concentrating part of their work on the elevation of a railway crossing that allowed a tour bus filled with Austin seniors to get hung up a moment before a freight train struck it Tuesday afternoon.

The approach to the track has signs that warn long vehicles like tour buses to avoid the route.

In Texas, TxDOT has designed similar signs, but a search of federal railway safety records shows no listing of locations in Central Texas where they’re in use. A Federal Railway Administration spokesperson tells KXAN that’s up to the road owner, in many cases the Department of Transportation, to report.

A TxDOT signing warning trucks of low clearance on railroads (TxDOT Photo)
A TxDOT signing warning trucks of low clearance on railroads (TxDOT Photo)

Among nearly 27,000 railway crossings in Texas, including hundreds in Central Texas, KXAN’s analysis of the low-ground clearance crossings with accompanying signage shows only 36 statewide, including one in Comal County (New Braunfels), four reported in Harris County and 31 in Shelby County in East Texas.

As for a safer fix for so-called “hump” railway crossings, the director of UT’s Center for Transportation Research says road builders can’t always engineer a better solution given limitations in physical space and cost. So Dr. Chandra Bhat points to technology including autonomous cars as a way to ensure fewer human-caused wrecks.

“Certainly technology can be the way to move forward by way of communication between vehicles and infrastructure, vehicles and the train driver. I think that’s a lot of potential,” said Professor Bhat.

KXAN also checked fatalities at Central Texas railway crossings in the last decade. Williamson County has had four, Travis County, three and two people have lost their lives at railway crossings in Hays County.

Train collision fatalities by county

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