Chapter 1: Introduction

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Section 1: Overview of Railroads in Texas

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Manual Purpose

Within the state of Texas, there are more than 10,000 miles of railroad tracks and 80,000 highway center lane miles. The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Rail-Highway Operations Manual is intended to cover responsibilities and best practices on projects that impact both roadway and railroad rights-of-way. The manual defines both TxDOT district and division responsibilities on the various types of projects encountered, and coordination efforts required between railroad companies and other entities.

This manual is not a railroad operations manual and does not cover items related to train scheduling, railroad worker safety, or commonly asked questions from the public pertaining to railroad operations.

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TxDOT Role with Railroads

TxDOT has two divisions that work with railroad companies as a primary function.

The Rail Division (RRD) has the authority to implement rail improvements through public-private partnership agreements and provide investments in freight rail relocation projects, rail facility improvements, rail line consolidations or new passenger rail developments. RRD also manages lease agreements with operators on state-owned facilities and construction contracts for state or federally funded rehabilitation projects on both state-owned and private facilities.

The Traffic Operations Division-Rail Safety Section (TRF-RSS) is responsible for two primary functions:

  1. The State Rail Safety Participation Program, which promotes safety in all areas of railroad operations in order to reduce deaths, injuries and damage to property resulting from railroad crashes by conducting railroad investigations and inspection in all five Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) disciplines.
  2. Railroad-Highway Grade Crossing Programs, including:
    1. managing the Federal Railroad Signal Program (FSP)
    2. managing the Replanking Program of on-system at-grade crossings
    3. maintaining a database of all public railroad crossings
    4. generating railroad related agreements for TxDOT construction and maintenance work that impacts railroad rights-of-way
    5. assisting with other issues related to public railroad crossings.

District personnel coordinate design, construction, and maintenance of road projects impacting railroads within their district. They are also responsible for reviewing invoices related to railroad construction work and coordinating district activities with their railroad company counterparts.

The Texas Railroad Information Management System (TRIMS) went live in March of 2013 as the database to manage railroad crossing data and rail-highway project information. See Chapter 12 for more information.

See “Rail Safety” on the TxDOT Traffic Operations Division website for more information on rail-highway programs and projects.

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Operating Railroads in Texas

Class 1 railroad companies are defined as having annual carrier operating revenues of $433 million or more (as of 2011).

Currently, there are three Class 1 railroad companies operating in Texas, which account for approximately 84% of freight railroad track (including trackage rights) in the state:

  1. Union Pacific Railroad (UPRR) (Approximately 43% of track in Texas)
  2. BNSF Railway Company (BNSF) (Approximately 35% of track in Texas)
  3. Kansas City Southern Railway (KCS), which includes the Texas Mexico Railroad (Approximately 6% of track in Texas).

The remaining railroad track in the state is operated by more than 50 different short-line railroad companies. Short-line railroad companies are defined as having annual operating revenues of less than $20 million (1991 dollars). These railroad companies are typically regionally located and partner with Class 1 railroad companies for switching railroad car shipments with customers.

Railroad rights-of-way are typically owned and operated by private industry (railroad companies) and widths of the right-of-way can vary.

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Railroad Crossings

There are four general types of railroad-highway crossings:

  1. Railroad Over (roadway underpass): Roadway or sidewalk crosses under railroad tracks (grade separation)
  2. Railroad Under (roadway overpass): Railroad crosses under roadway or sidewalk (grade separation)
  3. At-Grade Crossing: Roadway crosses railroad tracks at-grade (same level as roadway) with or without adjacent sidewalks
  4. Pedestrian Pathway Crossings: Sidewalk crosses railroad tracks at-grade, but more than 25 feet from an adjacent parallel roadway.

Crossings are further defined by:

  • Public vs. private railroad crossings:
    • Public crossings are typically located on public roadways where both sides of the crossing are maintained by a public agency and the road is open for public use.
    • Private crossings are typically located at driveways and on private roadways or where one or both approaches are maintained by a private entity.
  • Active vs. passive warning traffic control devices:
    • Active warning devices contain train-activated components such as mast flashers, cantilevers, bells, and/or gates
    • Passive warning devices are non-train activated roadway signs for traffic control.

As of January 2015, Texas has the following quantities of railroad crossings:

  • 16,786 Total Open Crossings (Public and Private)
  • 4,768 Open Private Crossings
  • 12,108 Open Public Crossings
  • 2,380 Open Public Grade Separated Crossings
  • 9,728 Open Public At-Grade Crossings
    • 6,081 Open Active Public At-Grade Crossings
    • 3,647 Open Passive Public At-Grade Crossings.
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Types of Railroad Tracks and Common Track and Signal Equipment

The following are typical types of railroad tracks and facilities encountered:

  • Mainline Tracks: Typically higher speed tracks, these represent the majority of track miles. These tracks are used for long distance shipping. There may be multiple mainline tracks adjacent to one another.
  • Passing/Siding Tracks: Located adjacent to a mainline track, these tracks are used to store trains waiting for a train traveling the opposite direction to pass or allow faster trains to overtake them.
  • Wye Track: A curved track which connects two perpendicular tracks.
  • Spur Track: A short section of track which typically branches off of a mainline track to an industry customer.
  • Spur Permit Track: Railroad spur that was installed by permit from TxDOT and where the railroad company is responsible for the majority of construction and maintenance of the crossing.
  • Switching Track: Used for switching rail cars.
  • Switch or Turnout: Used to control movement of train at location of two divergent tracks. Can be mechanical or electrical.
  • Diamond: The at-grade crossing of two separate railroad tracks. Controlled by an interlock switch. Also known as an interlock.
  • Control Point: Location used to manage train movements that are typically on each side of a siding.
  • Rail Yards: Locations of multiple adjacent tracks used for storing and switching of cars.
  • Wayside Signals: Railroad signals that are used to control train movements. These can include powered switches, train abnormality detectors and actual train movement signals. This also includes any buried or overhead communication lines.
  • Railroad-Highway At-Grade Crossing Signals: Train or railroad personnel activated signals that warn a motorist of an approaching train.
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