Section 2: Railroad Crossing


Railroad crossing signs are posted to warn you that there are railroad tracks up ahead. A railroad advance warning sign is round and is located 50 to 500 feet from the railroad crossing, depending upon the speed limit of the highway.

Cross Bucks (A crossbuck is a sign composed of two slats of wood or metal of equal length, fastened together on a pole in pattern resembling the letter X) must be treated exactly the same as a yield sign; anytime you approach a railroad crossing you must:

  • Slow down;
  • Look both ways;
  • Listen for a signal (whistle);
  • Proceed only if the crossing is clear. It doesn’t matter how big you think your pickup truck or SUV is, if a train is approaching, the driver must stop!

REMEMBER: Certain vehicles, such as school buses and commercial trucks, are required to stop before crossing railroad tracks.

Stopping at Railroad Crossings

If the red lights are flashing but the gates are up, you must stop at the tracks before proceeding with caution. Let’s see what the law says:

Pursuant to IC §9-21-8-39, you are required to stop at least 15 feet (but no more than 50 feet) of a railroad crossing when:

  1. a clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device, such as flashing lights, gives warning of the immediate approach of a train.
  2. a crossing gate is lowered
  3. a human flagman gives a signal of the approach or passage of a train.
  4. you hear a train honking and crossing is an immediate hazard because of:
    • the speed of the train
    • the train is within 1,500 feet of the crossing
  5. an approaching train is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to the crossing.

You may not proceed until all of the following are apparent:

  • the lights are no longer flashing
  • the crossing gate is raised
  • the human flagman indicates you can proceed
  • the train is no longer within 1,500 feet and is not an immediate hazard

Important: If the gates are up but the red lights are flashing, you must stop at the tracks before proceeding with caution.

If you are in heavy traffic, make sure there is enough room for your vehicle on the other side of the tracks before you cross. If your car stalls on a railroad track when a train is approaching, don’t waste any time. Immediately get yourself and your passengers out and away from the car.

Penalties for Failure to Stop at Railroad Crossings

Failure to stop at a railroad crossing is a Class C Infraction with stiff penalties including a $155 fine and 6 points on your driving record.

Causes of Railroad Crossing Collisions


  • Driver Complacency is the primary cause. You must have broken the law in order to have a railroad crossing collision.
  • Stopping on Railroad Tracks. Whether you are stuck in traffic and trapped or your car stalls on the tracks, if a train is coming, bail out of the car and do not take anything with you. Run in the direction from which the train is coming, but angle away from the tracks.

    A train traveling 40 mph requires from 1½ to 2½ miles to stop and engineers do not attempt to stop for cars stalled on the track because if trying to stop in a short distance, the train could derail, resulting in much greater property damage, increased number of injuries, and possibly more deaths.

  • Multiple Tracks. One train could be blocking the view of others. Make sure all tracks are clear before crossing.
  • People Driving Into the Sides of Trains. 26% of all railroad crossing crashes involved people driving into the sides of trains.
  • Ignorance Of Railroad Crossing Laws
  • Impatience
  • Racing the train. Trains can reach speeds up to 70 mph. Due to the distance and its size, trains can appear to be very slow moving. Think of how slow a 747 airplane appears when taking off. It is travelling at 180 MPH, but appears slow due to its size.

    If a driver races a train the driver still loses even if it’s a tie. Think about that for a minute or two. Remember it is not only dangerous (and stupid) to race a train across the track, it is also illegal.

Railroad Crossing Safety Tips for Drivers


  • Never drive around lowered gates. Driving around lowered gates is illegal and deadly.
  • Never race a train to the crossing. Even if you tie, you lose.
  • Do not get trapped on the tracks. Only proceed through a highway rail grade crossing if you are sure you can completely clear the crossing without stopping (and the gates are not down and the lights are not flashing).
  • Get out of your vehicle if it stalls. If your vehicle stalls on a crossing, immediately get everyone out and far away from the tracks.
  • Call the police for assistance. If a train is coming, get out immediately and move quickly away from the tracks in the direction the train is coming from. If you run in the same direction the train is traveling, when the train hits your car you could be injured by flying debris.
  • Watch out for a second train. If you are at a multiple track crossing and are waiting for a train to pass, watch out for a second train on the other tracks, approaching in either direction.
  • Expect a train on any track at any time. Most trains do not travel on a regular schedule. Be cautious at a highway rail grade crossing at any time of the day or night.
  • Be aware that trains cannot stop quickly. Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 miles per hour can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied. That’s 18 football fields!
  • Do not be fooled. The train you see is closer and is moving much faster than you think. If you see a train approaching, wait for it to go by before you proceed across the tracks.
  • Cross train tracks at a designated crossing only. When you need to cross train tracks, go to a designated crossing, look both ways, and cross the tracks quickly without stopping. Remember that it isn’t safe to stop closer than 15 feet from the rail.