The Federal Railroad Administration dropped a proceeding that would have overhauled its method for deciding where warning devices are placed at rail-highway crossings.
The agency began the review of rules covering installation of new safety devices at crossings soon after a 1993 Supreme Court decision. In that case, the high court ruled that federal law does not shield railroads from negligence suits in state courts over the condition of rail-highway crossings.The decision to drop the proceeding was considered unusual, since most FRA rule-making efforts end when new rules are developed by consensus or agency action.
Before the Supreme Court's decision, railroads maintained that they were exempt from liability for crossing accidents because a 1973 federal law pre-empted state suits.
FRA proposed that railroads shouldn't be allowed to unilaterally select locations for installation of warning devices at crossings. Instead, the agency sought comments on a plan to have carriers provide information to state officials so that those agencies could make plans and set priorities on where the warning devices should be placed.
However, opponents of the FRA proposal published in early 1995 attacked the plan on grounds it would shield railroads from liability for crossing accidents.
Mark Lindsey, the agency's chief counsel, said he did not expect a new rule-making on the subject to begin any time soon, saying that would depend on the availability of more information about the issue.
''We were disappointed that we did not get more facts in the record,'' Mr. Lindsey said. ''We put a good deal of effort into this rule-making. It is an area where greater clarity is very desirable.''
FRA said it began the proceeding to gather data on the role of railroads and public agencies in deciding how crossing improvement programs should be handled.
Instead of data, the agency said it received comments that drew conclusions about the proposal.
Proponents of FRA's plan said it would improve safety by making the process of planning for warning devices more rational. In its Federal Register notice announcing the end of the proceeding, FRA termed its effort ''a worthwhile first step in addressing the allocation of responsibility.''