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Intelligent Grade Crossings

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) is the application of new communications, computer, and sensor technologies to highways and transit systems and the careful integration of system functions to provide more efficient and effective solutions to multimodal transportation problems. The goal of ITS is provide a seamless, multimodal, and nationwide transportation system. Development of a National Architecture, which is the framework that addresses all ITS user services, and defines the subsystems and data flows (i.e., information that must be shared between subsystems) required to make ITS work, has been the first step in achieving this vision. In particular, the technologies and operations needed for a transportation system that will satisfy the requirements of the 31 user services are defined in the architecture. Two user services deal directly with grade crossings: #30 for Highway-Rail Intersections, and #31 for Archived Data. 

Highway-Rail Intersection (HRI) User Service #30

The ITS Architecture provides for the integration of the railroad operating systems with the traffic management systems and was developed through a consensus process involving the Association of American Railroads (AAR), the American Short Line and Regional Railroad Association (ASLRRA), the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO), States, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America (ITS America), the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and FRA. The result is a system that would have the capability for getting advance warning of approaching trains through interconnected information systems that link the motorist to the traffic management and rail operations systems. It also allows for the capability of warning the locomotive engineer of obstacles or trapped vehicles at grade crossings, and potentially for trespassers along the right-of-way. 

As the next step in the ITS Program, FRA and the ITS Joint Program Office have worked with Standards Development Organizations, including the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers, the American Railway Engineering and Maintenance-of-Way Association (AREMA), AASHTO, and others, to develop the standards necessary for implementing ITS at grade crossings nationwide. These standards will be the basis for projects that will tie grade crossing warning systems to local traffic management systems and will include communication to the PTC systems now being developed to increase safety for both motor vehicle users and rail passengers and crewmembers. These standards will also be turned into regulations by FHWA for the purpose of funding decisions. No Federal funds would go the HRI projects that do not meet the standards.

Archived Data User Service (ADUS) #31

Real-time data from traffic and transit operations can be archived and used for purposes other than in ITS control strategies. By archiving the detailed data collected, more accurate analyses for planning, research, performance monitoring, and policy purposes can be conducted at much lower costs. 

Standards development is underway for ADUS, and it will provide guidance in system design and promote the integration of ITS with traditional information systems and ensure consistent deployments of archives within regions as well as throughout the nation. To implement ADUS, a Strategic Plan for ADUS Standards was one of the first specific activities identified. Many of the other activities in the ADUS Program Plan will feed the standards efforts as more is learned from research and case studies. Standards will expedite national level analyses that rely on comparing conditions across the country in a consistent manner as well as allow historical comparisons and trend monitoring since data definitions will remain stable over time. They also will allow comparison of operations among various regions.

Intelligent Grade Crossings are those locations where ITS for roadways come together with Intelligent Railroad Systems, and in particular, Positive Train Control (PTC) systems. PTC systems, unlike traditional railroad signal systems, provide continuous information on train location and speed. FRA, working with the ITS Joint Program Office, intends to sponsor Intelligent Grade Crossing projects on railroad corridors in Michigan, Illinois, and Alaska where FRA-sponsored communication-based PTC systems are being implemented and demonstrated. Coordination will take place with the State highway departments so that these grade crossing projects are integrated with other projects that are underway. For example, warning to motor vehicles of oncoming trains, as well as advice on alternate routes to avoid blocked crossings, would be transmitted through the standardized ITS dedicated short-range communications system and displayed on standardized in-vehicle information displays and roadside variable-message signs.