Private Roads: Deadly Consequences

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On Monday, February 1, 2016 a tractor trailer was traveling on on this private road in Virginia with a driver and a passenger inside when it was struck by a train made up of three engines and 14 cars. The resulting crash left one dead and one seriously injured and the truck in flames. Being a private road, the highway-grade crossing was unmarked.

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Judging from the curve in the tracks, it is possible that the driver did not even see the train coming before he was hit, even if he just did a quick glance.

While trains are required to sound warnings at all public crossings, it is possible on this private road no warning was sounded — until it was too late.

All truck drivers should be aware of “quiet zones” at certain public railroad crossings.

A quiet zone is a section of a rail line at least one‐half mile in length that contains one or more consecutive public highway‐rail grade crossings at which locomotive horns are not routinely sounded when trains are approaching the crossings.

In a quiet zone Locomotive horns may still be used in the case of an emergency and/or to comply with Federal reg or certain railroad rules.

At a minimum, each public highway–rail crossing within a quiet zone must be equipped with active warning devices: flashing lights, gates, constant warning time devices (except in rare circumstances) and power out indicators.

On private roads this is not the case. There may not be any indicators to alert the driver to the presence of a train.

The best piece of advice I can recall comes from an engineer at an Operation Lifesaver presentation: Anytime is train time.

Always expect a train may be coming down the tracks. In Michigan and other states, if the line is not being used, the rail company has to tear out the tracks. So anytime you see a set of tracks, there is the possibility of a train, because that rail line will still be active.

Very few private crossings have active traffic control devices and many do not have signs.  FHWA

Most private grade crossings are under the jurisdiction of railroad companies. As such, the private crossings may not be given top priority to be marked.

The safe thing to do when approaching any rail crossing, public or private, is to always be ready to yield right of way to the train. Be ready to safely stop between 50 feet and 15 feet away from the tracks.