Caution is imperative at rail crossings. It can take a train a mile or more to stop — that’s the length of 18 football fields. - Photo: Ward

Caution is imperative at rail crossings. It can take a train a mile or more to stop — that’s the length of 18 football fields.

A train strikes a vehicle or a person every three hours in the United States, according to Operation Lifesaver. Because professional drivers log more hours behind the wheel than the average American, they also likely face rail crossings more frequently.

Lack of caution and common sense at a rail crossing can be deadly. In 2021, there were 2,148 vehicle-train collisions at highway-rail grade crossings, according to data from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Moreover, these crashes resulted in 236 fatalities and 662 injuries.

Also noteworthy, approximately 68% of all 2021 highway-rail grade crossing collisions occurred in 15 states. The top five states with the most collisions at rail crossings include Texas with a total of 247 crashes, California (169), Georgia (132), Illinois (125), and Indiana (120).

Now is a good time for fleet operators to remind their drivers to be vigilant about safety when crossing train tracks. Operation Lifesaver, a non-profit that promotes rail safety education to prevent collisions, injuries, and fatalities on and around railroad tracks and highway-rail grade crossings, offers the following advice you can share with your fleet drivers.

Advice for Safely Crossing the Tracks

Always expect a train.

Trains may be closer and traveling faster than they appear and can run on any track at any time in any direction. 

Eliminate distractions.

As always, stay focused on the task at hand. Do not use your cell phone, eat, drink, or fiddle with the radio while attempting to cross railroad tracks.

Never try to beat a train.

It can take a train a mile or more to stop — the length of 18 football fields.

Cross in the right place.

The only safe and legal place for anyone to cross railroad tracks is at designated crossings.

Be cautious.

Always obey warning signs and signals. Always look for a train before proceeding.

Avoid getting stuck.

Before crossing, be sure there is space on the other side to completely clear the tracks. 

Distance matters.

Trains overhang tracks. Leave at least 15 feet between the front and rear of your vehicle and the nearest rail. Also, avoid shifting gears while crossing.

Look both ways.

Multiple tracks may mean multiple trains. Ensure you can clearly see down the tracks in both directions before proceeding.

Respect safety infrastructure.

Avoid crossing while lights are flashing or gates are down.

Take the right actions if you get stuck.

If your vehicle stalls at a crossing, get out and move far away immediately, even if you do not see a train. Call the number on the Blue and White Emergency Notification System (ENS) sign and share the crossing ID number with the dispatcher. If there is no sign, dial 911. 

About the author
Marianne Matthews

Marianne Matthews


Marianne Matthews contributes safety news and articles for the Fleet Safety newsletter. She is an experienced trade editor.

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