Payton GuionFellow Payton Guion of NJ Advance Media revealed dangerous flaws in the Federal Railroad Administration’s top safety program, which gives millions of dollars to states every year to pay for safety upgrades at crossings.

For his work on the series, he was assisted by Marquette student journalists Zoë Comerford, Grace Connatser and Jenny Whidden

Their first story in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recounted several close calls that have occurred at a specific railroad crossing which had been out of commission until four years ago. 

A yearlong investigation by NJ Advance Media, supported by the O’Brien Fellowship at Marquette
University, found safety failings have been evident for decades. Weak, and sometimes nonexistent,
federal regulation has failed to rein in a mighty railroad industry that often blames rail crossing
crashes on drivers.

Our investigation found that even relatively straightforward safety upgrades have been ignored at
thousands of crossings, despite decades-old federal safety guidelines and clear evidence that the measures save lives. 

The Federal Railroad Administration, the arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation that regulates
railroads, lacks the funding, authority and political wherewithal to enforce these guidelines, giving
railroads and state governments little incentive to effectuate them, according to industry experts.

Our investigation also found that the U.S. DOT’s top crossing safety program, which gives states millions of dollars every year to pay for upgrades, is dangerously flawed. The FRA has incorrect data for more than one-third of all railroad crossings in the country — and likely for many more. Officials use that data to determine what crossings receive safety improvements.

Meanwhile, even crossings with automatic gates and flashing lights — the most common safety devices — do not always protect drivers because the equipment fails regularly, violating federal regulations.

Government officials have known the safety equipment is prone to malfunction since before it was widely adopted in the 1980s and ’90s.

Works Published to Date:

June 2020
Wisconsin saved Plymouth’s rail line, but drivers at risk because of inadequate safety measures

May 2021

Trapped on The Tracks