People die or are seriously injured at railroad crossings daily. Railroad crossing safety concerns are imperative. In 2021 there were over 1,600 collisions between cars and trains in the United States and in 2020 there were 500 collisions at transit-train crossings, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA). The result: 133 people lost their lives and 644 were injured in railroad crossing-related accidents, many of which could have been prevented.
Some Things to Know About Railroad Crossings
Minnesota has rules of the road, contained in the Vehicle and Traffic Law and other sources, which provide guidance to motorists when crossing railroads. For example, Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1170(a), entitled “Obedience to signal indicating approach of train,” provides that: “Whenever any person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad grade crossing under any of the circumstances stated in this section, the driver of such vehicle shall stop not less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail of such railroad, and shall not proceed until he can do so safely.” The rule continues, explaining that the “foregoing requirements” will apply when:
- An audible or clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device gives warning of the immediate approach of a railroad train;
- A crossing gate is lowered or when a human flagman gives or continues to give a signal of the approach or passage of a railroad train;
- A railroad train approaching within approximately one thousand five hundred feet of the highway crossing emits a signal audible from such distance and such railroad train, by reason of its speed or nearness to such crossing, is an immediate hazard; or
- An approaching railroad train is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to such crossing.
Vehicle and Traffic Law section 1170(a) is just one of many rules of the road that can govern the operation of motor vehicles near railroad tracks.
Minnesota driverss must always exercise reasonable care on the roadway. What constitutes reasonable care will, of course, depending on the circumstances. NHSTA has compiled a list of safety tips for navigating railroad crossings, including:
- Stop, look both ways, and be alert
- Never stop on the tracks and make sure you have enough room to get across
- Stop at least 15 feet away from flashing red lights, gates, or a stop sign
- Never drive around a lowering gate or ignore signals.
- After a train passes, wait for gates to fully rise and for lights to stop flashing before driving forward
- Never assume that there is only one train coming, or that a train can only come from one direction
- If your car stalls, quickly get out of the vehicle and away from the railroad tracks, even if you don’t see a train coming
These are just some safety tips. New York motorists may be well advised to review other information NHTSA has posted online as part of its “Stop. Trains Can’t” campaign.
Rail Signs and Signals
In the United States, a person or vehicle is hit by a train every three hours, according to Operation LifeSaver, Inc., an organization that provides rail safety education. As a result, it’s crucial to understand railroad signs and signals when driving or walking near railroad crossings. They are there to help motorists stay safe and guide traffic.
According to Operation Lifesaver, there are passive signs, which let drivers know they are approaching a highway-rail grade crossing, and there are active signs that warn drivers of the approach or presence of train traffic at railroad crossings. According to the NHTSA, rules can vary when navigating railroad crossing because of intersections and public and private driveways.