Did you know that over 500 truck and bus highway-rail grade crossing collisions occur each year? Even more startling is the fact that over half of all motor vehicle-train collisions occur at crossings where active warning devices have been installed and are working properly. Sadly, collisions at railroad crossings are serious and often fatal.
To help avoid a collision with a train at a railroad crossing, there are a number of important things for commercial motor vehicle drivers to remember:
Plan a route that contains the fewest highway-rail grade crossings, whenever possible. In the event rail crossings are unavoidable, select the safest crossings – those that offer the best sight distance (no obstructions to your clear line of vision down the tracks).
Use a global positioning system (GPS) or navigation app intended for commercial motor vehicles and updated with the latest vehicle-specific mapping data. However, don’t allow the convenience and ease of use of a GPS lull you into following commands without applying common sense and the fundamentals of safe driving.
Know the length of your vehicle and allow for its overhang when negotiating railroad tracks. While the rear wheels may have crossed the tracks, your vehicle’s back end could still be hanging over them.
Know the undercarriage height of your vehicle. Numerous highway-rail grade crossing collisions in recent years have resulted from a commercial vehicle getting “hung” up on a crossing’s low ground clearance.
Most trains do not run on set schedules. Trains can run on any track, at any time, going in either direction. Approach railroad crossings cautiously and always expect a train - even on rarely used tracks.
Do not ignore active warnings at crossings, attempt to drive around gates or race a train to a crossing. It’s virtually impossible to accurately judge the speed and distance of an oncoming train. Due to their enormous size and the angle at which vehicles are positioned at crossings, trains appear to be traveling much slower than we think. The parallel lines of the rails converging toward the horizon contribute to the illusion and fool our minds into thinking the train is farther away than it actually is. Stop and stay in place until the gates are raised and the lights have stopped flashing.
Be especially careful at passive crossings – those without gates, flashing lights and bells. At these crossings, it will be up to you to judge if a train is coming without the assistance of warning equipment.
Don’t forget the possibility of a second train. If there are multiple tracks at a crossing, a sign directly below the crossbuck will indicate the number of tracks. Wait until the last train car passes, then look and listen for another train before crossing.
Do not pass other vehicles within 100 feet of a highway-rail crossing. Drivers who do so run the risk of a collision at the crossing. The vehicle being passed may obstruct a clear view of the tracks, or vehicle speed while passing may be too great to stop in time.
As you approach a railroad crossing:
Check for traffic behind you while stopping gradually. Turn on four-way flashers to warn others that you are slowing down and use a pull-out lane, if available.
Stop no closer than 15 feet from the tracks and no farther than 50 feet from the nearest rail. Roll down the windows and turn off the fan and radio. Listen for warning whistles and look carefully in both directions, moving your head and your eyes to see around obstructions such as mirrors, windshield pillars, posts and trees (see CFR 49 §392.10).
Do not enter a crossing without having sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping (see CFR 49 §392.12). Avoid getting boxed in; make certain traffic will not trap you on the crossing. Also, keep in mind that trains will overhang the track by several feet. So, before you cross, plan to have at least 15 feet of clearance between your vehicle’s back end and the farthest rail to prevent your vehicle from getting hit.
Do not enter a crossing unless your vehicle has sufficient undercarriage clearance to completely drive through the crossing without stopping. Watch for low ground clearance warning signs, and be extra cautious at “hump” crossings, where the tracks are on the crest of a slope. Drivers at such crossings must travel up an incline, cross the level tracks and then proceed down an incline. However, this hump can catch the undercarriage of the vehicle if the undercarriage is long enough and the ground touching the front and back tires is low enough.
As you begin to cross:
Cross the tracks with care. If you stopped in a pull-out lane, signal and wait for a safe gap in traffic.
Use the highest gear that will allow you to cross the tracks without shifting. Shifting gears while crossing the tracks may cause your vehicle to stall.
Don’t ever stop your vehicle on the tracks. Once you start crossing, keep going (do not back up), even if the lights begin to flash or gates come down.
If your vehicle gets stuck on the tracks:
Evacuate the vehicle immediately. Quickly move away from the tracks at a 45-degree angle in the direction of the oncoming train. Should the train hit your vehicle, the debris will fly in the same direction as the train's path.
IMMEDIATELY call the railroad’s posted emergency phone number and specify that a vehicle is stalled on the tracks. Provide the location of the crossing, the DOT crossing identification number (if posted) and the name of the road or highway which crosses the tracks. If you cannot locate the railroad emergency phone number at the site, call the local police or dial 911.
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