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Railroad Crossing

In 2010 there were 1,824 train-vehicle accidents which resulted in 616 fatalities at railroad crossings in the United States. Compared with other types of collisions, train/motor vehicle crashes are 11 times more likely to result in a fatal injury. On the average, there are more train-car fatalities each year than airplane crashes. Unfortunately, driver error is the principal cause of most grade crossing accidents. Many drivers ignore the familiar tracks they cross each day, and some drivers disregard train warning signals and gates.

All public highway-rail grade crossings are marked with one or more of the following warning devices:

 Advance warning signs indicate that a railroad crossing is ahead. These signs are positioned to allow enough room to stop before the train tracks.

 Pavement markings may be painted on the pavement in front of a crossing. Always stay behind the stop line when waiting for a passing train.

 Flashing lights are commonly used with crossbucks and gates. Stop when the lights begin to flash and the gate starts to lower across your lane. Do not attempt to cross the tracks until the gate is raised and the lights stop flashing.


 Railroad crossbuck signs are found at most public crossings. Treat these signs as a yield sign. If there is more than one track, a sign below the crossbuck will indicate the number of tracks at the crossing.

You must stop at least 15 feet from a train track when: (1) warning lights flash; (2) a crossing gate or flag person signals an approaching train; (3) a train is within 1500 feet of the crossing; or (4) an approaching train is plainly visible and in hazardous proximity.

Follow these guidelines when you encounter a railroad crossing:

  • Always expect a train.
  • When approaching a crossing, LOOK, LISTEN, and LIVE.
  • Be sure all tracks are clear before you proceed. Remember, due to their large size, it is easy to misjudge the speed and distance of an oncoming train. If you have any doubts, stop and wait for the train to pass.
  • Watch for vehicles, such as school buses, that must stop before train tracks.
  • Never race a train to a crossing.
  • Always stop for flashing lights, bells, and gates. Never drive around a gate. (State law requires pedestrians to stop when a railroad crossing gate is down.)
  • Do not allow yourself to be boxed in on a track with cars in front and behind you.
  • Never stop on train tracks. If your car stalls on train tracks, call 911 immediately. If a train approaches, abandon the car and run away from the tracks.
  • When driving at night, look low to the ground for moving trains. (One third of all train-car collisions occur at night when cars run into moving trains.)
  • Watch out for a second oncoming train after the first train has passed.

May 2011
Reviewed November 2014