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Indiana Department of Transportation

INDOT > Safety > Traffic Safety  > Railroad Crossing Facts Railroad Crossing Facts


  • Trains operate under rigid speed restrictions that are monitored very closely by the railroads and regulatory agencies. Many freight trains average a mile in length. If the train is traveling 50 to 60 MPH, it takes about a minute to clear a crossing. At 30 MPH, it takes about two minutes to clear a crossing.

  • Trains have the right-of-way because they cannot stop in time for a motorist at crossings or for trespassers on the tracks. The average freight train, traveling at 55 MPH, takes anywhere from a mile to a mile and a half to make a complete stop. The average automobile can stop in only 200 feet at that same speed. The heavier the object, the longer the stopping distance. In addition, the contact surface between a train's steel wheels and the steel rails is only the size of a dime! That results in very little friction created when compared to an automobile with rubber tires on asphalt or concrete.

  • There are several numbers to call in order to get a train stopped or to report a malfunctioning crossing signal. At some crossings there are signs with a 1-800 number to call the railroad directly and warn them of stalled vehicles or other problems at the crossing. You can also call 911 for the local police and tell them the location, generally the name of the road intersecting the tracks or the nearest town, and they will contact the railroad. The railroad dispatcher can reach the locomotive engineers by radio and they will do everything possible to get any approaching trains stopped in time. Stay off the tracks and don't try to flag down the train. there's not enough time for an engineer to stop by the time they see you.

  • Every operator of a motor vehicle is required by law to bring their motor vehicle to a full stop at a highway-rail grade crossing when warned of an approaching locomotive or train by flashing lights. They cannot cross until the approaching locomotive or train has passed or until directed to do so by emergency personnel. If there are gates at the crossing and they are in the lowered position, you must not go around them, but drive to a different crossing. It is against the law to drive around lowered gates. When a signal system is activated, a train is almost always in the approach circuits, but may be blocked from view.

  • The money for installing automatic warning devices often comes from limited public sources. A typical installation can cost $250,000 or more. Once installed, the railroad maintains the crossing signal system. Many factors, such as frequency and speed of rail traffic, motor vehicle traffic and collision history play a part in determining which crossings will be signalized.

  • Rigid or heavier crossing gates would cause several problems. The gate is there as a warning to drivers, not as an impenetrable barrier. Sometimes, drivers get trapped on the crossing with the gate down behind them. The gate is made of a lightweight material that will break off when a vehicle drives through it so there's an escape route. Heavier crossing gates would also be more expensive and difficult to install.

  • Federal law requires trains to sound their horn at all highway-rail grade crossings. Many times, drivers do not pay attention or do not expect to see a train, especially at crossings they are familiar with.. These are the times when the locomotive horn may be the only warning that gets the driver's attention. Never assume that a seldom-used track has been abandoned. The railroad can put a train there any time.

  • To notify officials about a visibility problem at a railroad crossing, please contact INDOT Railroad Services at 317-232-1491 or call the railroad directly using the 1-800 number posted at the crossing.

  • It is against the law to stop a vehicle on a railroad crossing. Every operator of a motor vehicle is required to bring their motor vehicle to a full stop at a highway-rail crossing when warned of an approaching locomotive or train by train activated signals. Drivers are required to remain stopped until the approaching locomotive or train has passed or until directed to do so by emergency personnel at the crossing.

  • Railroad property is private property and access is limited to railroad personnel and those persons who have been granted access by the railroad. Violators can be charged with trespassing. Nationally every year, more than 500 people who trespass on railroad right-of-way are killed and many others are critically injured.

Contact Information

Mike Riley
Manager, Rail Office
Indiana Department of Transportation
100 N. Senate Ave. IGCN 955
Indianapolis, IN 46204
317-232-1491
mdriley@indot.in.gov