Better regulations, enforcement, engineering, and training have greatly reduced train and motor vehicle collisions across the United States. In fact, collisions declined 83 percent from 12,000 in 1972 to 2,123 in 2017, significantly reducing fatalities and injuries. However, reaching zero collisions requires more education, especially on how to drive safely through railroad crossings.

While trains collide with trucks at railroad crossings far less than with cars, truck collisions can be much more severe. Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration data show that in the United States, 112 fatal crashes involving large trucks occurred at railroad crossings from 2010-2017. Washington State Utilities and Transportation Commission data show that in Washington State, 67 railroad crossing collisions involved semi-trucks from 2010-2018. These incidents resulted in 2 deaths, 10 injuries, and many thousands of dollars in property damage.

Attempting to beat a train at a railroad crossing is always a bad decision that can cost your life. Trains are closer and faster than they may seem from a truck cab window. The average freight train traveling at 55 mph needs a mile or more to stop. By the time a train engineer sees you, it’s nearly always too late for them to fully stop before hitting you. The more you know about railroad crossing safety, the better prepared you’ll be to drive and thrive each day. Use the following tips to stay safe at highway-rail crossings.

Approaching and crossing train tracks:

  • Know your railroad crossing signs and signals.
  • Use only designated crossings.
  • Always expect a train when you approach a crossing.
  • Stop at least 15 feet away from a crossing.
  • Put away your cell phone, it’s illegal and can distract you from seeing or hearing a train.
  • Turn off your radio and fan so you can listen for approaching trains.
  • Look both ways before going through a crossing.
  • Never drive through a crossing unless you can clear it without stopping.
  • At a multiple track crossing, wait for the train to pass, then look both ways for other trains before driving on.
  • Never drive around lowered gates – it’s illegal and deadly.
  • Make sure that trailer landing gear is fully retracted to prevent getting stuck on crossings.

If your truck stalls or gets stuck:

  • Get yourself and any passengers out of the truck immediately.
  • If a train is coming, get out and move quickly toward the oncoming train and away from the tracks at a 45-degree angle. This is to protect you from being hit by debris that will fly in the same direction of the train’s path. 
  • When you are a safe distance from the tracks, call the 800 number on the blue Emergency Notification System sign at the crossing, or call 911 to alert trains of your location. Do this even if you do not see a train.

To report a rail crossing signal malfunction or other problem:

  • Call the 800 number on the blue Emergency Notification System sign at the crossing. Provide the location, crossing number (if posted), and the name of the road or highway that crosses the tracks.
  • Call the local police or 911 if you cannot locate the emergency phone number at the crossing.

Get free rail crossing safety training resources:

Keep Trucking Safe Railroad Crossing Safety Tip Sheet.

Operation Lifesaver’s Rail Safety Education for Professional Drivers includes railroad crossing safety information, videos, eLearnings and other training materials.

Federal Railroad Administration’s Emergency Notification System sign visor card here.

Federal Railroad Administration’s Rail Crossing Locator Mobile App lets users get information about specific railroad crossings in the United States. The app can also be used to report an emergency or safety concern about a railroad crossing.

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