How Can Drivers Reduce Risk at Railroad Crossings?
According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were roughly 2,145 highway-rail grade crossing collisions in 2021. While this is a very small number when compared to regular motor vehicle accidents, it does indicate that railroad crossings can be dangerous locations for drivers.
In a contest between trains and any type of vehicle that uses the road, the train will always win. Plus, they always have the right of way. These locomotives have enormous amounts of weight propelling them forward, meaning any collision with a vehicle will crush that automobile and send it tumbling. For this reason, it is important to understand how to move safely across railroad crossings.
Railroad Crossing Safety Tips
Due to the weight of trains, they are unable to stop quickly. Sometimes, it can take up to a mile or more for a train to come to a complete stop. It can be even longer in adverse weather conditions. This means it is nearly impossible for trains to avoid hitting vehicles that are on the train tracks. Follow these tips to reduce risk at a railroad-grade crossing.
Watch for Flashing Red Lights
Railroad crossings feature flashing lights for a reason. They are there to warn you when a train is nearby. Whenever you approach train tracks that are in active use, make sure that the railroad crossing lights are not flashing. If they are, make sure that you do not proceed across the railroad tracks until the train passes and the lights have stopped flashing.
Never Stop on the Tracks
Rule number one is to never stop your vehicle on the tracks. Even if the lights are not flashing and the barrier is raised, it is unsafe to be on the tracks for an extended period. If traffic prevents you from moving forward safely, then simply wait on one side of the tracks until there is room beyond the other side for your vehicle. The last thing you want is to get stuck and be unable to avoid a crash because of cars in front of and behind you.
Drive Across All Tracks at Once
Some intersections between roadways and railroads contain multiple tracks. In this case, you should never cross until you can safely move your vehicle past all sets of tracks.
Slow Down When Crossing
Although railroad crossing gates are meant to warn you of an incoming train, there is always the possibility that they are malfunctioning for one reason or another. It is better to be cautious and stay safe rather than rely on the barrier to function perfectly. Slow your car down as you approach the railroad crossing and check each direction as you would when crossing the street. It is better to check for an incoming train even if the gate is open.
Never Drive Around Barriers or Flagmen
Gates usually close well before the train actually arrives. Sometimes, drivers are tempted to drive around the barriers so that they are not delayed by the train. However, even if you do not see the approaching train, do not try to drive around the lowered gates or a flagman who is signaling. This is incredibly dangerous, and train strikes can happen quickly. The train approaching the railroad crossing could be moving at a very fast pace and may reach the road too quickly for you to avoid them if you are driving across the railroad tracks. Stay behind the lowered gate, listen to flagmen, and be patient to avoid any chance of a deadly collision.
Do Not Try to Beat a Flashing Light or Barrier
Another temptation for an impatient driver is to try to get past the railroad crossing when the signals that indicate an oncoming train begins. Maybe the red light starts flashing or the gates start to lower. Do not try to beat the lowering crossing arms to get to the other side before the train arrives. Just slow to a stop and wait. It is better to be safe than sorry, and the law is not going to be on your side if something happens. Many drivers think they have a little bit of time from when the flashing starts to the gate actually lowering, but this does not matter. Stop your vehicle immediately and do not tempt fate. Additionally, once the train has passed, do not attempt to get through the crossing before the gate has re-opened. There could be more than one train that is approaching the intersection at once, so wait for the gate to open in all circumstances.
Exit a Stalled Vehicle Immediately
Though the chances are incredibly slim, some vehicles have stalled out on tracks in the past. If this happens to you, turn on your four-way flashers and exit the vehicle immediately and get to a safe location, even if no signals have gone off to indicate a train arriving. Many railroad crossings have signs that provide a toll-free number you can call in this exact situation. If there is no number, call 911 instead. Approaching trains will be unable to stop if they see a vehicle blocking the crossing, so get as far from the tracks as possible to avoid any flying debris from a collision.
Railroad Crossing Safety is Very Serious
The very few vehicles that do get hit by trains at railroad crossings experience a significant amount of damage. Anyone inside the car at the moment of the crash is at serious risk of severe injuries or even death.
Drivers who follow these railroad crossing safety tips will be in a much better position to keep themselves and their passengers away from danger. When navigating a railroad crossing, make sure that you listen to any flagmen that are present, observe the signals, and stay out of the crossing area completely once the indicators demonstrate that a train is coming. If you get stuck on the tracks, it is your responsibility as the driver to evacuate everyone from the vehicle right away.
Know the proper laws and procedures for moving through a railroad crossing so that everyone can stay safe and dangerous accidents can be avoided.