Last year, eight people were killed and 13 injured in accidents at railroad crossings in Oklahoma.
Tuesday, state officials announced a $100 million initiative to improve safety at these crossings, many of which do not have flashing lights or crossing arms. Improvements are to be made at more than 300 rail crossings statewide.
Most of the money is coming from the state’s $75 million sale of the Sooner Sub rail line. Federal funding and money from railroad companies also will be used in the program, which should take three to four years to complete, said Mike Patterson, executive director of the Oklahoma Transportation Department. A list of the 300 crossings will be released after the first of the year.
Normally, the state spends about $8 million a year in a rail safety program that is able to improve about 25 crossings annually.
Oklahoma has more than 3,700 at-grade railroad crossings. About two-thirds lack lights and crossing arms to warn motorists of an oncoming train.
“This will be the first-ever, large-scale safety program for our railroads in our state,” Gov. Mary Fallin said at a news conference at the state Capitol.
She said there are too many faded rail signs and there is often inadequate warning for motorists that a locomotive may be approaching.
“We must do a better job as a state to protect our citizens at rail crossings and that is what this plan will do,” she said.
Late last year, a jury in Pontotoc County handed down a $9.6 million award to the family of Jeffery Nye, 46, a Sulphur football coach killed at a rural BNSF Railway crossing near Roff in 2008. The lawsuit said overgrown vegetation blocked motorists’ view of approaching trains, there were no flashing lights or gates and the locomotive’s whistle was not blown.