The U.S. Dept. of Transportation has announced that it is seeking applications for more than $573 million in grants to install infrastructure to make safety and efficiency improvements at highway-railroad crossings around the U.S.

DOT’s Federal Railroad Administration said on June 30 that it was releasing a funding-availability notice for the grants from the Railroad Crossing Elimination Program, which was created in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. 

The $1.2-trillion measure was signed into law last Nov. 15.

Under the new program, at least 20% of the funding, or $114.7 million, will go for projects in rural and tribal areas. In addition, at least 3% of the total, or $18 million. must go for planning projects.

Federal funds may cover up to 80% of a project’s total cost.

Applications for the grants are due 90 days after the notice’s publication in the Federal Register, which is expected on July 6.

Eligible applicants include states, Indian tribes, local governments,  port authorities and  metropolitan planning organizations.

The notice states that improvement projects include installing, repairing or improving crossings, grade separations, signals, gates an other warning devices. It says the project can also include road improvements, such as medians or other types of barriers.

Ian Jefferies, Association of American Railroads president and chief executive officer, said in a statement, “These funds are a vital, new tool that will save lives and reduce driver delays."

Jefferies added that the grants "are win-wins for everyone that enhance safety, reduce driver wait times and keep goods moving across the country.”

DOT Secretary Pete Buttigieg said in a statement, "In too many communities across America, outdated railroad crossings are unsafe, result in lengthy wait times and can even crease significant delays in our supply chains."

FRA said that in 2021, there were about 2,148 grade-crossing accidents, which resulted in 236 deaths and 662 injuries.

Citing preliminary FRA statistics, the rail safety organization Operation Lifesaver said that the 2021 highway-rail accidents total was down from 1,908 but the number of fatalities rose from 196 in 2020.

FRA noted that the announcement came just days after two fatal accidents at grade crossings. The agency said that those accidents "underscored the tragic consequences of collisions that occur throughout the country."

Both crashes involved Amtrak trains. One accident occurred on June 26 at a private crossing near Brentwood, Calif., in which four passengers died, according to media reports.

The other collision took place near Mendon, Mo.,the following day. In that accident, a train struck a dump truck hauling aggregate for a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers project slightly north of the highway-rail crossing, National Transportation Safety Board Chair Jennifer Homendy said in a June 29 briefing near the site. 

The Missouri State Highway Patrol said in a June 28 statement there were four fatalities resulting from the crash, including one who died at at the hospital. 

The highway patrol also said about 150 people were taken to area hospitals for treatment of injuries "minor to serious in nature."

Both accidents occurred at what Homendy termed "passive" crossings, which lack gates, warning lights, bells or other infrastructure. There are about 130,000 passive crossings in the U.S., she said, which equal about half of all road-rail crossings.