Everything A Trucker Needs To Know About Railroad Crossings – Part I

The United States is criss-crossed with over 200,000 highway-rail grade crossings, and every professional truck driver must know how to cross them properly. This is especially true if you are operating on long routes in heavy vehicles like various tractor-trailer combinations.

There are several aspects to railroad crossings that truck drivers need to know, from regulations to emergency procedures and safety device and sign recognition. With so much to go over, let’s get started.

Railroad Crossing Regulations and Techniques

A highway-rail grade crossing is the area where a roadway, whether it be a highway, road or street, crosses a railway at a grade. Both the railway and the road are at the same level at the crossing point, as opposed to grade-separated under- or overpasses.

There are quite a few different categories and classifications when it comes to how a commercial motor vehicle should handle a railroad crossing, depending on the type of cargo being transported. For a full listing see Section 392.10 of the FMCSRs.

No matter what vehicle you are in, or type of cargo you are transporting, when you are at a railroad crossing, you must listen and look in each direction along the tracks. Always make sure there isn’t a train approaching and do not shift gears while crossing the tracks.

There are certain instances when stopping on the railroad tracks is not required. They include:

  • A streetcar crossing.
  • Railroads used for industrial switching purposes only.
  • When a police officer or flagman directs traffic to proceed.
  • When a functioning highway traffic signal is transmitting green to signal it is safe to proceed without slowing or stopping.
  • An abandoned railroad grade crossing marked with a sign indicating the railroad is abandoned.
  • An industrial or spur line crossing marked “Exempt.”

Also, as outlined in Section 392.12 of the FMCSRs, you must always ensure you have sufficient space to drive your vehicle completely through a highway-rail grade crossing without stopping.

Don’t Get Disqualified

Not properly adhering to railroad crossing rules can result in truck driver disqualification. A conviction of any one of six highway-rail grade crossing offenses will disqualify a driver from operating their commercial motor vehicle.

As listed in Section 383.51, the following represents a conviction under existing rules.

  • Failing to stop or slow down as required.
  • Failing to leave enough space to cross all the way without having to stop.
  • Failing to comply with a traffic signaling device.
  • Failing to negotiate the crossing because of insufficient undercarriage clearance.

For railroad crossing violations, the disqualification period can last 60 days for the first conviction to one year for three or more convictions in a three year period.

Warning Devices

The national standard for railroad crossings includes two basic types: Passive and active. Active warning devices activate automatically when a train is approaching a highway-grade railroad crossing.

Active warning devices include:

  • Bells;
  • Whistles;
  • Traffic signals, and;
  • Other physical barriers.

Because of their more obvious nature, active warning devices offer greater protection than passive devices.

Passive warning devices are generally not electronic in nature. Nor do they give notice of an approaching train. Instead of actively warning a driver, passive devices are intended to direct the driver’s attention to the crossing so that the individual knows to exercise caution.

Such devices include:

  • Crossbuck signs;
  • Stop signs;
  • Yield signs;
  • Pavement markings, and;
  • Constantly flashing lights.

Don’t Get Stuck

Although you should always ensure you are aware of proper clearance, if you do get stuck on the tracks, there are a number of steps you need to follow:

  • Immediately get out of the vehicle and take your cell phone.
  • Move far away from the vehicle in the direction of any approaching train. The idea is to be as far from the point of impact as possible.
  • Look for an emergency number posted at the crossing.
  • Give your exact location, using landmarks and the DOT number for the crossing. If there is no posted number, call 911 or local law enforcement immediately.

In the end, the point is to not get stuck and make your way across the railroad crossing without incident. In order to do that you’ll need to know the signs. Join us in Part II of our series, where we take a look at the different signs to look out for when dealing with railroad crossings.