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How Important is Railroad Crossing Safety?

Railroad crossing safety is increasingly important as the use of rail to move freight and passengers grows ever more common.  The following facts reveal the explosive growth of US railroads in recent decades:


  • In 1975, trains moved 750 billion ton-miles of freight across the United States.  By 2005, the amount had grown to more than 1.5 trillion ton-miles. 
  • In 2011, US freight moved across 139, 679 route-miles of tracks.  This statistic refers only to standard gauge routes.  It increases significantly when narrow gauge and other types are included.
  • Nearly 40% of the total goods bought and sold in the US move by freight at some point in the distribution chain.


Fundamentals of Rail Crossing Safety

The best way to minimize rail crossing accidents is to emphasize the basics of safely crossing tracks in public awareness campaigns.  The proper steps can be broken down as follows:


  1. Stop completely at a crossing, maintaining a minimum distance of three feet (1 m) from the tracks due to train overlap.
  2. Listen carefully for the train, making sure to turn off the vehicle radio and lower both front windows.  Cease any cell phone communications as well until the vehicle safely crosses the tracks.
  3. Look both ways before crossing the tracks—twice. 
  4. Once starting across the tracks, proceed slowly but steadily to avoid “bottoming out” along the way.  Under no circumstances should drivers stop until their vehicles are at least three feet from the track’s opposite side.
  5. Should the vehicle stall, all occupants should immediately exit, get as far from the tracks as possible, and contact emergency personnel.  They should not return to retrieve personal items or for other purposes, until and unless rail officials have verified that a train isn’t en route towards their location.


Following these directions can prevent the vast majority of rail-motor vehicle accidents.  This is a growing priority for train-dependent nations like the United States.