AMU Emergency Management Public Safety

Trains and Train Crossings: Safety First

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Many Americans drive across train tracks and crossings every day, yet rarely pay close attention when crossing because trains are hardly ever seen on the tracks.

[link url=”” title=”One website“] is committed to ensuring the safety of all vehicles and pedestrians crossing train tracks, helping to prevent deaths and injuries.

Statistics indicate that every three hours in the United States, a train hits a person or vehicle.

[link url=”” title=”Operation Lifesaver“] works to lower the frequency of such events by offering tips and suggestions for how to remain safe when approaching and crossing train tracks.

The site suggests that drivers be aware of the various types of railroad crossing signs that exist, as some are passive and indicate additional track/train information, while others are considered active, using electronic devices to warn motorists of an active train crossing.

Know the warning signs

Operation Lifesaver wants people and drivers to be aware of meanings behind some of the main passive and active warning signs:

  • Advance warning signs:
    • Round yellow signs indicate a highway-rail grade crossing ahead
    • May be accompanied by additional signs that warn of other hazards, such as low ground clearance across the grade, no train horn, or tracks immediately after turning onto the street ahead
    • Is meant to prepare the driver to look and listen for any approaching trains
  • Painted pavement markings:
    • Use combination of large X with an R on either side
    • Wide white stop bars indicate the location that a car should stop and look for a train, and not go beyond while waiting for a train to pass
  • Crossbuck signs:
    • White X signs with the words Railroad Crossing in black indicate important information about a grade crossing
    • Most common sign at public highway-rail intersections
    • It should be treated in the same way a driver treats a YIELD sign, meaning the trains have the right-of-way
    • It will often show other information on another sign below the crossbuck, such as the number of tracks present, so more than one train could be approaching, so look carefully
  • Active warning devices:
    • Flashing red lights
      • With or without bells
      • Warns of an approaching train when lights are flashing
    • Flashing red lights with gates
      • Warns of an approaching train, and closes the road so vehicles cannot cross
      • It is illegal to drive around gates that have lowered
    • Cantilever flashing lights
      • Warns of an approaching train
      • Designed to cover all lanes of traffic
      • Some have gates that lower to close the road to vehicles crossing the tracks

Think Train!

Perhaps most importantly, the organization highly advises that when tracks are observed — including any railroad crossing warning signs — it says to “Think Train!” and then obey the crossing signals and signs to ensure personal safety.

Kimberly Arsenault serves as an intern at the Cleveland/Bradley County Emergency Management Agency where she works on plan revisions and special projects. Previously, Kimberly spent 15 years in commercial and business aviation. Her positions included station manager at the former Midwest Express Airlines, as well as corporate flight attendant, inflight manager, and charter flight coordinator. Kimberly currently holds a master's degree in emergency and disaster management from American Public University.

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