We’ve all seen the videos. An 18-wheeler gets stuck at a railroad crossing as an oncoming train races towards it, with no hope of stopping in time. Helpless bystanders look on with terror as the driver abandons the vehicle and runs for cover. The results? They’re never pretty. In 2020, Operation Lifesaver reported 1,901 highway-rail grade crossing collisions. These accidents resulted in 688 injuries and 198 deaths.

How do these situations unfold, and more importantly, how can they be prevented? In this blog post, you will find an overview the different types of railroad crossings and how they should be interacted with, particularly by truck drivers. We’ll also cover specific scenarios, such as crossing a railroad with a hazmat load. Let’s dive in.

Two Types of Railroad Crossings

Every railroad crossing is unique. But highway-rail grade crossings are always broken down into two general categories: passive crossings and active crossings.

Passive Railroad Crossings

Passive crossings are those that do not have any kind of device or gate that controls the flow of automobile traffic. In other words, it’s up to the driver to determine if it’s safe to drive over the tracks. As you approach a passive railroad crossing, you should reduce your speed and look both ways to confirm that a train is not coming. Upon confirming that it is safe to continue, cross the tracks. Before stopping, use your rearview mirror to confirm that your trailer has cleared the crossing.

Active Railroad Crossings

The second type of railroad crossing is an active crossing, which does include a device or mechanism that physically controls traffic. These generally take the form of flashing lights and a gate that blocks vehicles from proceeding while a train is passing.

Regardless of the type of crossing that you are approaching, you should always assume that tracks = train. Never rely solely on the traffic control device at an active crossing.

Keep in Mind While Crossing

Before you start driving through the crossing (either active or passive), ensure that there is enough space on the other side for your entire truck and trailer to occupy. If there is not enough space, you could end up having to stop with your trailer stranded in the crossing.

Who Has To Stop Before Crossing Train Tracks?

Most people are familiar with the concept of school buses and commercial vehicles with passengers coming to a complete stop before driving through a railroad crossing. What is less known, however, is that CDL drivers who are transporting hazmat freight must also stop before crossing train tracks. If you are hauling a hazmat load and are approaching a railroad crossing, try to get in the right-most lane. This is so that vehicles that are not required to stop can go around you and pass you in the left lanes. Come to a complete stop no closer than 15 feet to the tracks. Once you’ve confirmed that the tracks are clear, proceed through the crossing without stopping.

What Causes Truck Drivers to Get Stuck on Train Tracks?

Whenever you see a tractor-trailer stuck on the tracks at a railroad crossing, you likely ask yourself, “Now how’d they end up there?” Oftentimes, it’s a situation that could have been avoided. Here are some of the common mistakes that result in getting stuck while crossing railroad tracks.

Shifting Gears While Crossing

NEVER shift gears while crossing train tracks! If you miss the gear, your truck could stall and become stranded before your truck and/or trailer has cleared the tracks. Once again, truck drivers should never shift gears while crossing train tracks!

Raised Crossings

Not all railroad crossings are the same. Raised crossings, or those that are at the top of a small hill, provide a particular challenge for tractor-trailer drivers because of the tendency of the landing gear of the trailer to become stuck on the tracks. Prevent such predicaments by being conscience of your ground clearance at all times.

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What To Do if Your Truck Becomes Stuck at a Railroad Crossing

In the undesirable event that your truck becomes stuck in a railroad crossing, you need to promptly follow these procedures:

  • Get yourself (and any passengers) out of the truck and away from the tracks. Do this even if it does not appear that a train is approaching.
  • Look for the blue ENS sign with white text posted at the crossing. Call the given emergency number and 911 and notify them that your vehicle is stalled on the tracks. Be sure to tell them the DOT crossing number that is on the sign. It can take a full speed train up to one mile to stop, so this step should be performed as soon as possible to reduce the chances of a devastating collision.
  • If your vehicle is stuck in a railroad crossing and a train is approaching, run in the direction that the train is coming from at a 45-degree angle. By doing so, you’ll reduce your chances of being hit by the wreckage.

Proactively Prevent Railroad Crossing Accidents

The mere thought of having your truck stranded at a highway-rail grade crossing as a train approaches is enough to make your stomach drop. Luckily for CDL drivers, however, the chances of this happening are dramatically reduced when you consistently follow the proper safety procedures.

We hope that you’ve found this information about railroad crossing safety to be helpful. We encourage you to download and print out our free RAILROAD CROSSING SAFETY SHEET, which includes an overview of railroad safety for truck drivers and some quick tips to remind yourself of. This would be a great resource to keep in your truck or on your phone!

Are you an experienced truck driver in Memphis or Atlanta? Our company relies on CDL drivers who are reliable, safe, and willing to learn. View our careers page to learn more about what it’s like to drive for Easley Transportation. Keep up with the latest happenings at Easley by following us on Facebook and LinkedIn!

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