Every three hours, a train hits a car somewhere in our country. Imagine the terror of a car stuck on train tracks, unable to move, and having to exit the scary situation knowing you won’t be able to make it across. Although the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) works to reduce these accidents, sometimes they remain inevitable and, like anything, the best practice possible is prevention. According to the organization known as the Federal Highway Administration (FHA) there are more than 250,000 highway-rail grade crossings throughout the country, and almost a quarter of these crossings are unprotected, which means they do not have flashing lights or swing-arm gates at the crossings to warn motorists of an oncoming train. (1)
What should I know if I am a motorist driving on or near train tracks?
First of all, it is essential to remember: Do not try to beat the train. If a train is travelling 55 miles per hour, it will take about a full mile to come to a stop, not leaving much time. When the gates fall down and lights start to flash, that means the road is closed. Every vehicle, even emergency vehicles, must remember to yield to the train in this situation. It is important to remember to not drive around the lowered gate, even in a situation where you think it isn’t working. First of all – it’s illegal. And secondly? It can be deadly. There is a telephone number of the rail operator at every crossing if you think it isn’t working correctly, and it is much better to be safe than sorry and end up in an accident.
If you are in the unfortunate situation that your vehicle is stuck on the tracks, you are to act quickly and get everybody out of the car. Do so by instructing them to run at a 45-degree angle away from the tracks and toward the direction the train is coming, which will protect you from most of the flying debris if the train and vehicle are to collide. If your vehicle becomes stuck on tracks and a train is not in view, get everybody out of the car and call the toll-free number listed on the gate so the rail operator may be able to divert the train. If you can’t find the number, call 9-1-1 as in any emergency. (2)
Be aware of all signs nearby train tracks!
If a train accident occurs and you end up injured or your vehicle ends up damaged, somebody may be held liable as a result. It really depends on the situation, so it is essential to seek the help of an attorney. In some situations the liability can fall on the railroad company operating the train, the railroad company that owns the track, the train designer or manufacturer, the local county or city, or even the motor vehicle driver themselves. Again, it all depends on your specific situation. Be aware and stay safe while on or near tracks. (3)