7 Surprising Tips for Safe Driving at Railroad Crossings

7 Surprising Tips for Safe Driving at Railroad Crossings 

Trying to beat a train at a railroad crossing is a way to lose big – the train will always win. In fact, the driver of a vehicle that crashes into a train is 20 times more likely to lose their life than if they crashed into another vehicle. 

So how can you drive safely when approaching railroad crossings? Here are a few unexpected rules to follow.

Expect the unexpected. Unlike passenger trains, freight trains don’t have set schedules. So don’t think a train won’t be coming just because it usually doesn’t at that hour. Also, passenger train schedules can change, and sometimes trains are late. Expect a train at any railroad crossing at any time.

Check for a second one. If you’re waiting for a train to pass through the crossing, be aware that another train could be passing in the opposite direction – and you can’t see it. After a train passes, keep alert for any others that might be on the tracks.

Trains don’t stop fast. By the time a train engineer sees you, it’s too late to stop. Why? Trains can weigh up to 20 million pounds. A train that size can take a mile or more to stop. That’s 18 football fields of stopping distance! You don’t want to be in the way of a train. It won’t stop for you because it can’t. So don’t take chances crossing the tracks when a train is approaching.

Trains are wider than they look. Trains are three feet wider than the tracks, on both sides. So even if you’re off the tracks, you could still be in the way of the train.

You might not hear it. Trains these days are quieter than they used to be, so you might not hear an approaching train.

What if your vehicle stalls? Since railroad tracks may be raised above the road surface, cars have stalled trying to get over the tracks. Be aware of the incline and shift before the crossing. If you do stall on the tracks, get everyone out of the vehicle ASAP. If a train is approaching, make sure you run parallel to the tracks in the direction of the train to avoid being hit by flying metal or glass when the train hits your vehicle.

It’s not just about the train. Not all crashes at railroad crossings involve trains! In 2017 there were 76 crashes at railroad crossings just in Pennsylvania, but only a third of them involved a train. Don’t pass other vehicles, and be careful with pedestrians and cyclists who are also traveling near or through the crossing. 

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