TIFFS: Railroad crossings in the crosshairs

Number two in the Transport-in-a-Fine-Fix Series.

Some may cry foul that I’m unfairly picking on transport when writing about negative-air-quality-impact-related matters. But, that’s the whole point, that not everything having to do with transport is positive in this or other regards. Take, for instance, America’s highways and roads. On them accidents claim about 30,000 lives yearly. Even though over the years these have become fewer, there is obviously still much more room for improvement.

As for air quality impact from transportation, it is significant. I have reported many times here on this blog about this very thing. All one need do is click on the “Transportation” option in the “Select Category” window (located in the column labeled “Categories” near the bottom of this page) to know there are 122 articles (as of this writing) tagged with the word “Transportation.” Not all are negative mind you; a good many deal with inventions or innovations which, if implemented, will help clean the air. But there are negative aspects connected with transportation and just as transport has a downside air-pollution-emissions-wise, there should as well be focus on such to draw attention to this. And, hence the reason for the “Transport-in-a-Fine-Fix Series.”

One more point: The American Society of Civil Engineers in its 2013 Report Card for America’s Infrastructure report assigned an overall grade of D+ to the nation’s infrastructure across 16 sections, most of which is transportation-centered. Part of the assessment either focused on air quality or air pollution. It just so happens, American Rails received a grade of C+, so it is doing above average. The report is updated every four years. (For more, see: “Making the grade – Part 1: American infrastructure report card: Rails”).

Why railroad crossings?

In the U.S. the railroad was the main impetus that gave many a city and town along and adjacent to rail rights-of-way their starts. In myriad cases, the railroad and station were the town focal points and all building and development expansion radiated out from there. To enable people in horse-drawn buggies, carts and wagons to get from one side of the tracks to the other, crude crossings were fashioned out of piled-up dirt or mud placed between and outside the rails. (Railroad crossings became much more refined over time).

Meanwhile, as of 2004 in the U.S., there were in excess of 250,000 public and private crossings in service.1 Elimination of many of these crossings, replacing such with either overpasses or underpasses (also known as “grade separations”) or closing the crossings outright, would aid in the improvement of air quality.

320px-FLV_California_train[1]Incidentally, high-speed train and some light rail transit and subway systems are constructed such that there are no grade or level crossings affording street traffic a path to cross the tracks at the same grade or level.


  1. “From A to Z by Train: The Comprehensive Guide to Train Safety for Teens and Adults,” “Produced under the direction of the California Department of Transportation,” in connection with Amtrak California, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Highway Administration and Operation Lifesaver, Inc., and published by AMC Media Corp., 2004.

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