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Indiana Department of Transportation

INDOT > Safety > Traffic Safety  > Railroad Crossing Safety Tips Railroad Crossing Safety Tips

Many drivers pay little or no attention at highway-rail crossings they drive across day after day because they never see a train there. The following safety tips can help save a life. 

Trains do not run on set schedules. They can be on any track, at any time, going in either direction

When locomotive engineers see a vehicle or person on the tracks in the path of their train, they can only sound the warning horn and apply the emergency brakes. A train in emergency braking will stop, but not in time to avoid this collision. The average freight train consisting of 100 cars and weighing anywhere from 12 million to 20 million pounds takes over a mile to stop in emergency braking. There are brakes on every wheel, but it takes that long for all of those brakes to overcome the momentum of the tremendous weight pushing the train.

Always yield the right of way to the train. The train cannot yield to you.

More than half of all motor vehicle-train collisions occur at crossings equipped with the automatic signals. It's because some drivers choose to drive around the gates or through the flashing red lights because they thought they could beat the train, assume a stopped train has activated the signals, or the signals are malfunctioning.

Never ignore active warnings at crossings.

Locomotives are huge;17 feet high and 10 feet wide. As a result, they appear to be traveling much slower than we think when viewed from a slight angle at the crossing. The combination of the size and angle create this illusion. The parallel lines of the rails converging toward the horizon contribute to the illusion and fool our minds into thinking the train is farther away than it actually is. It is virtually impossible to accurately judge the speed of a train when these combinations of illusions are present.

Trains will arrive at a crossing faster than you anticipate.

One in four crashes occurring at highway-rail crossings takes place when drivers run into the side of the train. Often, it's because the driver is going too fast for conditions, such as darkness, rainy weather or fog. Many drivers "overdrive their headlights." This means driving too fast to be able to stop in the distance illuminated by your headlights. By the time you see the train at the crossing, it's too late to avoid the crash. In other instances, there may be high levels of noise in the vehicle causing the driver to be inattentive and not noticing the train's warning devices.

Look and listen when you see advance warning signs indicating a rail-highway crossing.

Drivers who pass vehicles when approaching a highway-rail crossing run the risk of a collision at the crossing. The vehicle being passed may obstruct a clear view of the tracks, or vehicle speed while passing may be too great to stop in time.

Don’t pass approaching railroad crossings.

Many drivers get trapped on the crossing, between other vehicles, and end up getting hit by a train or abandoning their car just in time to see it destroyed.

Before starting across the tracks, be sure there's room to get completely across.

Many crossings are on a surface higher than the roadway. Shifting gears with a manual transmission while going across this raised surface may cause the vehicle to stall on the tracks. If your vehicle is ever stalled or trapped on the tracks and a train is approaching, quickly get yourself and all other passengers out! Don't try to take any other items with you. When the train strikes the vehicle it will send flying metal and glass ahead of and outward from the locomotive. Many people have been seriously injured and even killed because they ran the wrong direction.

When running away from a vehicle stuck on tracks, run away from the tracks at an angle in the direction of the approaching train.

If a train is not approaching when a vehicle is stuck on the tracks, be sure to get yourself and all other passengers out of the vehicle and to a safe location. At crossings there are signs with a toll-free number to call the railroad directly and warn them of stalled vehicles or other problems at the crossing.

When crossing has more than one track, don't try to cross immediately after the end of the train passes -- there may be another train approaching on the second track.

Many crossing crashes have resulted because of impatience or inattentiveness at multiple-track crossings. You will always know how many tracks are at the crossing by observing a sign posed under the crossbuck. Directly below the crossbuck is a sign that indicates the number of tracks present if there are multiple tracks at the crossing.

Stay off railroad property and stay safe.

Some people believe railroad tracks are public property. Railroad tracks, railroad service roads, and other railroad right of way are often used by joggers, hikers, people walking their pets, or as a pathway to ride motorcycles or other all-terrain vehicles plus a wide variety of other activities. The danger with these activities on or near railroad tracks is these people are concentrating on their own activities not a train! Many joggers run with headphones and never hear the engineer's warning. Motorized vehicle noise also drown out the locomotive horn. Many people who do not hear the warning fail to escape the danger. More importantly, railroad tracks, service roads, and right of way are private property and only persons authorized by the railroads can be on that property.