- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

FARGO, N.D. (AP) - North Dakota transportation officials said Wednesday that automated crossing arms will be installed at the intersection where two people died when a school bus and train collided earlier this month.

The Jan. 5 crash east of Larimore killed Larimore High School student Cassidy Sandstrom, 17, and bus driver Max Danner, 62. Twelve other students were injured. The cause is still being determined.

The state Department of Transportation has agreed to pay for 90 percent of the crossing guard project, which is estimated to cost between $250,000 and $500,000. The remaining amount will be split between Grand Forks County and BNSF Railway.

Department spokesman Jamie Olson said cities or counties typically apply to the state to have crossing signals installed on roads that are locally maintained. In this case, she said, the agency immediately sent officials to evaluate the intersection.

“We reached out to them and said we would be able to help fund an upgrade at this crossing,” Olson said.

The crossing currently meets federal safety standards. The intersection is marked on either side with a crossbuck, which is a white “X” marked with the words “railroad crossing.” The crossbuck posts also have stop signs, which were added after a deadly 2009 crash.

Olson said that while the department typically uses federal funds to pay for crossing signals, the state is picking up the entire 90 percent for this project. BNSF spokeswoman Amy McBeth said the remaining 10 percent of projects is usually funded by the local governments, but the railroad does provide money on a case-by-case basis.

BNSF will design the crossing, install it and assume costs for maintenance.

“The railroad cannot on its own install crossing signals, which are traffic-control devices,” McBeth said. “Only the state has the authority to make this determination.”

The Federal Railroad Administration says flashing lights or gates improve safety at railroad crossings, but about half of collisions occur where active warning devices are present. Nearly 25 percent of all crossing collisions involve a motor vehicle striking the side of a train.

Olson said the Transportation Department receives about a dozen requests for crossing upgrades each year through a solicitation process. The department typically funds between six and 10 of those projects, she said.

“I know it’s a concern, always, and I wish we could fund all of them,” Olson said. “But there are so many and it’s hard to be able to do that.”

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