Surprisingly, most of the crashes at rail intersections occurred where both gates and lights are installed.
TMACOG data analyst Lisa Householder has done a recent study of crashes in northwest Ohio and southeast Michigan occurring at rail crossings from 2016 through 2020.
Surprisingly, most of the crashes at rail intersections occurred where both gates and lights are installed. ODOT researchers point to drivers who might be stuck on the tracks by traffic (rather than waiting for clearance before moving on to the tracks) or drivers who are impatient and drive around the lowered gates. Driving around gates leads to off-road accidents and crashes with on-coming traffic.
The largest contributing factor in railroad crossing crashes is “roadway departure” accounting for about 41% of the total. Lack of seatbelts and distracted driving are also common factors. Commercial vehicles were involved in 29% of crashes. As in all types of crashes, younger drivers are over-represented, involved in 28% of all Ohio crashes at rail crossings. Only 14% of crashes at rail crossings involved trains; the others involved crashing into gates, signs, other vehicles, or running off the road.
An encouraging trend is a steady reduction in the number of crashes in Ohio. In all of Ohio the number fell from 313 in 2016 to 74 in 2020, with reductions every year. In the 12 counties of northwest Ohio the trend is similar, from 69 in 2016, to 18 in 2020. Southern townships of Monroe County, Michigan had few crashes. Two in 2016, three in 2017, six in 2018, and two in 2019 with no reports available for 2020. There was only one train-related crash in that area between 2016 and 2020.
The ODOT State Highway Safety Plan lists several ongoing projects addressing safety including modernizing warning signals, reducing the number of crossings, and supporting grade separation projects proposed by local governments. Additionally, the Ohio Rail Development Commission, which administers highway-railroad grade crossing projects, details specific safety projects around Ohio representing a $34.5 million investment including many in northwest Ohio.