Railroad Crossing Safety: What You Need to Know

Years ago, it was common for people to use the railway system as a means of transportation. Nowadays, traveling by bus, personal automobile, or plane are more commonly used methods. However, according to the Association of American Railroads, approximately 5 million tons of goods are delivered every day to ports, distribution centers, businesses and more by way of American railroads. This means that railroads are used just as frequently, if not more, today than ever before.

It’s highly likely that you will encounter a railroad crossing while you’re behind the wheel. Here is how to safely approach railroad crossings, and handle the situation with ease.

railroad crossing safety

The basics of train safety

There are things you need to know when approaching a railroad crossing, regardless of whether or not there is a passing train.

Trains always have the right of way, even over emergency vehicles and police. You should always approach a railroad crossing with caution and make sure that there is enough room for your vehicle to safely make it to the other side of the tracks. Trains can sometimes be three feet or wider than the tracks on each side so give yourself plenty of room.

Most crossings are now equipped with some sort of railroad crossing signals, such as flashing lights or gates that raise and lower. Even at crossings with those devices, it’s best to always look both ways when crossing railroad tracks to be safe.

If you begin to cross a railroad track and the devices alert you that a train is coming, continue moving through the tracks. Do not stop or reverse your vehicle. You should only ever cross railroad tracks at a specified pedestrian or roadway crossing.

Lastly, railroad tracks and crossings are private property and should not be used for hiking, walking, jogging, walking your pets or as a path for ATVs or other motorized vehicles.

A train is approaching – now what?

If you are approaching a railroad crossing as the gates are being lowered, you must stop. Trains travel faster than you might expect and will reach the crossing quicker than anticipated. It is extremely dangerous to attempt to speed through the crossing. Once stopped, leave approximately 15 feet between your vehicle and the lowered arms.

After the train has passed, wait until the gates are completely raised and the lights have stopped flashing before proceeding across the tracks. If there is more than one set of tracks together, look both ways before crossing them as there could be another train approaching on one of the other tracks.

What to do if your car stalls on the railroad tracks

If you are crossing a railroad track and your car stalls, this information from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration tells you what you can do.

If there is not a train approaching:

  • Get out of your vehicle immediately.
  • Call the railroad’s emergency phone number, which can be found near the crossing, and provide them with the Department of Transportation’s crossing identification number. As this is a scary situation to be in, you may forget this part, in which case you can call 911. No matter who you call, tell them that your vehicle is stuck on the tracks and provide them with your location.

If there is a train approaching:

  • Get out of your vehicle immediately.
  • Walk in the direction of the oncoming train and away from the railroad tracks at a 45-degree angle. If your vehicle is struck by the train, debris will spread in the same direction the train is moving.
  • Once you are safely away from the crossing, call 911, let them know your location and that your vehicle is stuck on the tracks.

A report from the United States Department of Transportation showed that there are 216,000 railroad crossings in the United States and about every three hours, a person or vehicle is hit by a train.

Railroad crossing safety is very important and sometimes overlooked. Keep your eyes and ears open when approaching a railroad crossing and obey traffic laws. We want you and your vehicle to continue being able to enjoy the road ahead.