Railroad Crossing and Train Awareness

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety


Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit, international, public education program first established in 1972 to end collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on railroad rights-of-way.

Operation Lifesaver programs are supported by a wide variety of partners, including federal, state, and local government agencies, highway safety organizations, law enforcement, the nation’s railroads and their suppliers.

One of the initiatives the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) is undertaking to save lives on the Nation’s highways is to intensify our focus on highway-rail grade crossing safety. FMCSA has launched a nationwide educational campaign to remind commercial motor vehicle drivers of the precautions they must take at highway-rail grade crossings.

A highway-rail grade crossing is an intersection where a roadway crosses railroad tracks at the same level or grade. Such crossings may be encountered on both public and private roads. There are more than 250,000 such crossings in the U.S.

Although the highway safety picture has improved considerably over the last decade, 300-400 people are killed every year and more than 1,100 are injured at grade crossings. Of the more than 3,000 highway-rail grade crossing incidents annually, 700 involve trucks or tractor-trailers. This translates to an average of more than 13 per week. Although collisions involving buses at grade crossings are infrequent, results of such incidents can be tragic.

And, remember: When you see tracks, “Always Expect a Train”!

Driving Safety Tips

Never drive around lowered gates — it’s illegal and deadly. If you suspect a signal is malfunctioning, call the 1-800 numbers posted on or near the crossing signal or your local law enforcement agency.

Never race a train to the crossing — even if you tie, you lose.

Do not get trapped on the tracks. Only proceed through a highway-rail grade crossing. If you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping. Remember, the train is four feet wider than the racks on both sides.

If your vehicle ever stalls on a track while a train’s coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction the train is coming from. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris.

At a multiple track crossing waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching in either direction.

ALWAYS EXPECT A TRAIN! Freight trains do not follow set schedules.

Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That’s 18 football fields!

Do not be fooled — the train you see is closer and faster moving than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.

When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly, without stopping. Remember that it isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from a rail.

Know Your Rail Signs & Signals

There are both active and passive warning devices that are widely used. Passive signs and active traffic control devices are installed along the roads near the railroad tracks to regulate, warn or guide traffic. They alert drivers to the presence of railroad tracks and to the possibility of an approaching train. These signs and devices also provide a safety message and remind the driver of the laws regarding highway-rail grade crossings. What follows is a list of various signs and devices that you will see in connection with highway-rail grade crossings:

Passive Signs IN ADVANCE of Railroad Crossings

These are non-electric signs that warn the motorist the road ahead crosses the railroad tracks.

1. Yellow Circular Advance Warning sign warns drivers that the road crosses railroad tracks ahead. It reminds the driver to slow down, look and listen for a train and be prepared to stop if a train is approaching.
2.   Pavement Markings on paved roads near the yellow Circular Advance Warning sign also alert drivers that the road crosses railroad tracks ahead.
3.   A Stop Line painted across the lane on paved roads identifies the safe place to stop and look for an approaching train. On gravel roads there are no Pavement Markings or Stop Lines, and the driver must stop no closer than 15 feet. The yellow Diamond-Shaped Parallel Track sign identifies highway-rail intersections that appear immediately after making either a right or a left turn.
4.   The yellow Diamond-Shaped Parallel Track sign identifies highway-rail intersections that appear immediately after making either a right or a left turn.

Passive Signs AT Railroad Crossings

1. The Crossbuck sign is the most common sign at public highway-rail intersections. It has two crossed white boards with the words RAILROAD CROSSING. It marks the crossing and should be considered the same as a YIELD sign. If there is more than one track, a sign below the Crossbuck indicates the number of tracks present. After one train has passed, look and listen for another train coming from either direction. Take extra care at “passive” crossings (marked only with a Crossbuck). Always expect a train!

The STOP and YIELD signs mean the same as they do at highway intersections. A driver must always stop at the STOP sign in advance of the railroad tracks. Every driver must YIELD the right of way to a train.


At bridges, tunnels, trestle, railroad rights-of-way, and railroad yards, you will see large NO TRESPASSING signs. This means YOU. If you attempt to ride an ATV or a snowmobile, or hike on the tracks, a bridge, or a trestle or even walk near the tracks, you can be arrested and fined. But most of all it is dangerous because you never know when a train may be approaching.

Active Devices AT Railroad Crossings

1. Flashing Red Lights — with or without bells — warns of an approaching train. When the red lights are flashing, a train is approaching. Stop and wait for the train to pass, and then proceed when it is clearly safe to do so.
2.   Flashing Red Lights — with bells and gates-are used to close the road when a train approaches. It is illegal to go around the gates. Going around the gates makes the driver legally liablefor any deaths, injuries, or damage to property if a collision occurs.

Why aren’t there gates at all crossings?

Some crossings have very light vehicular traffic and trains may only pass on that corridor one or two times a week. At such crossings is may not be cost effective to install and maintain gates or lights. Decisions regarding the appropriate type of warning devices are made by the state highway officials. Gates do not prevent crashes, people do. Statistics show that approximately half of all highway-rail grade crossing incidents occur where gates and flashing lights or some active warning device is present and operational.

Pedestrian Safety

Railroad tracks, trestles, yards and equipment are private property and trespassers are subject to arrest and fine.

Cross tracks ONLY at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings.

It can take a mile or more to stop a train, so a locomotive engineer who suddenly spots you ahead has little chance to miss you. Railroad property is private property. For your safety, it is illegal to be there unless you are at a designated public crossing.

Trains overhang the tracks by at least four feet in both directions; they can cause a vacuum affect and pull you up under the train. Additionally, loose straps hanging from rail cars may extend even further. If you are in the right-of-way next to the tracks, you can be hit by the train.

The only safe place to cross is at a designated public crossing with a Crossbuck, flashing red lights or a gate. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined.

Do not cross the tracks immediately after a train passes. A second train might be blocked by the first. Trains can come from either direction. Wait until you can see clearly around the first train in both directions.

Flashing red lights signal that a train is approaching from either direction. You can be fined for failure to obey these signals. Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing. Stay Alive! DO NOT cross the tracks until the lights have stopped flashing and it is safe to do so.

If you are in a rail yard uninvited, you are trespassing and subject to criminal prosecution. The worst penalty is death.

DO NOT hunt, fish or bungee jump from railroad trestles. There is only enough clearance on the tracks for a train to pass. Trestles are not meant to be sidewalks or pedestrian bridges!

DO NOT attempt to hop aboard railroad equipment at any time. A slip of the foot can cost you a limb or your life.

Be aware trains do not follow set schedules. Any Time is Train Time!

Do not walk, run, cycle or operate all terrain vehicles (ATVs) on railroad tracks or rights-of-way or through tunnels.

Safety First, Safety Always!

Information provided by Operation Lifesaver, BNSF Safety and FMCSA.dot.gov


Today’s blog post comes to us courtesy of Ken Oswald

Safety and Security Manager for Plateau