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Of the more than 2,000 crashes that occur every year in the U.S. at highway-rail grade crossings, approximately 500 involve trucks or tractor-trailers, or an average of about 10 per week. While railroad crossing collisions involving buses are rare, the results of such incidents are serious and often fatal.


The good news is, as a professional driver, you can significantly lower the likelihood of a collision with a train by consistently practicing proper safety protocols:

  • Plan your route to avoid railroad crossings. If rail crossings are unavoidable, select a route with crossings that have active warnings and clear sightlines down the tracks in both directions.

  • Use a global positioning system (GPS) or navigation app intended for commercial vehicles and updated with the latest maps. However, avoid blindly following GPS commands without using common sense and safe driving practices.

  • Be aware of your vehicle's length, and factor in its overhang when crossing railroad tracks. Even if your rear wheels have cleared the tracks, your vehicle’s rear could still obstruct an incoming train. Remember, railway cars can extend three feet or more beyond the steel rail.

  • Know your vehicle’s undercarriage height. Many collisions at railroad crossings involve commercial vehicles becoming stuck due to insufficient ground clearance.

  • Always expect a train—even on rarely used tracks. Trains can move in either direction, on any track, at any time.

  • Do not ignore active warnings at railroad crossings, attempt to drive around gates or race a train to a crossing. A train can be deceptively quiet and difficult to gauge in terms of distance and speed. It is always moving faster and is much closer than you think.

  • Exercise heightened caution at passive crossings. At these points, you'll need to decide if it’s safe to drive over the tracks, as no gates or warning devices are present.

  • Be aware of the possibility of multiple trains. Avoid crossing immediately after a train passes, especially if there are multiple tracks, as another train may be approaching on a different track.

  • Refrain from passing other vehicles within 100 feet of a highway-rail crossing. The vehicle you're overtaking may block your view of the tracks, or your speed might make it difficult to stop in time to avoid a collision at the crossing.


When approaching a railroad crossing:

  • Check for traffic behind you while stopping gradually. Turn on four-way flashers to warn others that you are slowing down and use a pull-out lane, if available.

  • Stop no closer than 15 feet from the tracks and no farther than 50 feet from the nearest rail. Turn off the fan and radio, and roll down the windows. Listen carefully and look in both directions down the track, moving your body to see around obstructions such as mirrors, windshield pillars, posts, and trees (see CFR 49 §392.10).

  • Make sure there is sufficient space on the other side of the tracks to drive completely through the railroad crossing without stopping (see CFR 49 §392.12). Allow for at least 15 feet of clearance between your vehicle’s back end and the farthest rail to prevent your vehicle from getting hit.

  • Only proceed through a crossing if your vehicle's undercarriage can clear it without stopping. Watch for low ground clearance signs, and be extra cautious at “hump” crossings, which involve ascending, crossing level tracks, and then descending. This hump can catch the vehicle’s undercarriage. Semi trucks can also get snagged by the trailer’s landing gear.

Once you’ve confirmed the tracks are clear:

  • Cross the tracks with care. If you stopped in a pull-out lane, signal and wait for a safe gap in traffic before proceeding.

  • Use the highest gear that will allow you to cross the tracks without shifting. Shifting gears while crossing the tracks may cause your vehicle to stall.

  • Don’t stop your vehicle on the tracks. Once you begin crossing, keep going! Do not back up, even if the lights begin to flash or gates come down.

If your vehicle gets stuck on the tracks:

  • Exit the vehicle immediately. Quickly move away from the tracks at a 45-degree angle in the direction of the oncoming train. If the train strikes your vehicle, the debris will fly in the same direction as the train's path.

  • IMMEDIATELY call the railroad’s posted emergency phone number and report a stalled vehicle on the tracks. Provide the railroad crossing location, the DOT crossing identification number (if posted) and the name of the road that crosses the tracks. If you can’t find the emergency phone number at the site, call the local police or dial 911.

Article provided by Lancer Insurance co.


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