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Railroad Crossing Safety: Rural Roads

Promoting railroad crossing safety is a top priority for public safety officials, and with good reason.  An average of nine train-vehicle collisions occur each day across the United States.  The odds of dying in one of these wrecks are 40 times those of perishing in auto-auto accidents.  Reducing these numbers is essential to ensuring greater safety for all drivers.


Studies show that 80% of train accidents occur at rural intersections with no systems to warn of approaching trains.  While efforts are underway to equip these crossings with the necessary equipment, it will take at least 80 years and over $10 billion to achieve this goal at the present rate of progress. 


Given that national and state governments are in no mood to authorize additional spending, education must take the lead in keeping drivers safe from locomotive collisions.  One approach that has proven particularly successful is the “stop, look, listen” initiative.  It breaks crossing safety down into the following steps:

  • Stop – Come to a complete rest at least 10 feet from the tracks.  Remember that a train’s sides extend well over the rails, so allow for this when parked at a crossing.  The driver should always assume that a train is approaching, until and unless it’s clear that this is not the case.
  • Look – The driver should be taught to look not once but twice in each direction.  This cannot be emphasized too strongly, as the view at many rural crossings is obscured by grass, plants, trees, or other forms of growth. 
  • Listen – A train’s whistle is the most recognizable warning sign that it is coming near.  However, the driver should listen for the sound of the locomotive engine and the movement of the wheels against the tracks as well, in cases where the horn isn’t functioning.


Breaking rural railroad crossing safety down into these steps gives motorists an easy-to-remember procedure for ensuring safe passage across railroad tracks in rural areas.  This site offers additional information on this approach to train crossing safety.