GREAT FALLS — Living in a rural state, students often travel over sets of railroad tracks while on a bus headed to and from school. But what if public intersections in need of warning lights or gates are going unnoticed?
MTN Investigates found hundreds of railroad crossing inventory reports across Montana’s largest counties don’t account for school bus traffic, including all 64 in Cascade County.
Railroad companies work in partnership with the U.S. Department of Transportation to fill out reports for each crossing.
However, the Federal Railroad Administration says it's up to the state to keep school bus traffic data up to date (click here for FRA site).
MTN found there to be a number of crossings with active warning devices in and around Great Falls. But those reports indicate ‘0’, or are left blank for school bus usage.
Maps from Great Falls Public Schools Officials also show daily routes that cross over tracks in rural and urban areas.
While rare, crashes involving school buses have happened at railroad crossings in Montana. In 1985, an Amtrak train going 79 miles per hour struck a school bus driving over the tracks near Poplar on a November morning; thankfully no major injuries were reported. There were no active warning devices installed and conditions were cloudy.
A railroad expert says these inventory reports should matter to parents, school districts, and public safety advocates. “The only way the active warning devices are going to be installed is if a report is made that school buses are using the crossing,” said railroad safety advocate Bob Comer.
MTN Investigates tried to contact the state several times this month for comment on the discrepancies and more information on how railroad crossings are upgraded; we will post an update if we receive a reply.