In a rail crossing improvement program targeting mainly rural communities, Norfolk Southern railroad and the Indiana Department of Transportation are teaming up to improve 550 rail crossings across the state.
The largest impact locally will be at rail crossroads in Schneider and Shelby, but Dyer, Schererville, Wheeler, Kingsbury and Hanna also will get crossings with better warnings for motorists, according to INDOT.
The crossings targeted by the program are so-called "passive crossings," where the main warning to motorists of upcoming railroad tracks is a cross-buck sign at the tracks. The program being undertaken will not put lights or gates at those crossings, but will instead add yield signs where they are lacking and special reflective stripes on all signs.
"Some of these passive crossings don't get touched up very often," said Gary Evers, transportation project manager at the Northwestern Indiana Regional Planning Commission. "It's a good safety project."
The plan is now working its way through local metropolitan planning organizations such as NIRPC and work could start this year, INDOT spokesman Will Wingfield said.
INDOT will be expending $390,000 in federal rail safety funds for the Norfolk Southern crossing improvements with the railroad putting up a similar amount. Last year CSX railroad and the state started a similar program for 600 crossings with a combined INDOT/railroad price tag of $1 million.
Much of the action will be taking place in rural communities, because that is where most passive crossings are located, Wingfield said. Urban areas such as the lakefront cities in Lake County tend to have many more crossings with flashing lights and/or gates.
INDOT adds gates and lights at about 20 crossings per year around the state at an average cost of $280,000 per crossing, Wingfield said. Funds are not available to do that at all the hundreds of passive crossings, Wingfield said.
New federal guidelines require yield signs and the special reflective stripes, called retro-reflective striping, be present at all rail passive crossings by the end of 2019, Wingfield said. Retro-reflective striping has tiny embedded beads or prisms that can reflect up to 60 percent of the light a car shines on them directly back at the vehicle.
INDOT plans to enlist the state's other railroads in the program in future years.
Despite being a less populous state with extensive rural areas, Indiana has 5,784 public at-grade rail crossings, ranking it fifth in the nation.
View Norfolk Southern railroad crossings to get upgrade in a larger map