RRX: The Most Dangerous Railroad/Highway Grade Crossings

Five people died at this crossing in Evergreen Alabama.

Deadly Crossings: Five people have died at this crossing in Evergreen Alabama. Note the stop sign beyond the tracks . . .

Danger on the Tracks

Trucks and trains do not mix well. Collisions at crossings are never good for the truck or the train. Collisions with a truck hauling hazmat can be outright tragic.

Yet almost everyday a Commercial Motor Vehicle (CMV) collides with a train.

The Federal Rail Administration released a list of the 15 most dangerous crossings, out of the 200,000 crossings it oversees. At each of these crossings, multiple collisions and/or incidents have occurred in recent years.

The biggest issue seems to be a crossing near or at an intersection. A vehicle may have to stop for traffic and become trapped on or partially over the tracks at some of these crossings. A larger vehicle like a truck then becomes hard to miss.

Fatalities and injuries have decreased over the years and now average about 250 killed and about 1,000 injured each year — about a third of the number in the early 1980s. The majority of these crashes occur within 25 miles of a person’s home. Another statistic: a person is 20 times more likely to be killed in a crash with a train than in a collision with another vehicle.

Distracted Driving

In the majority of truck-train crashes I’m familiar with, the truck driver was distracted before the crash: talking on a CB, talking to a child riding along, distracted by work going on in a construction zone, etc.

I have personally road tested thousands of people and based on my observations, over half of drivers do not do traffic checks before or at rail crossings. Perhaps we’ve become accustomed to warning lights and gates doing our driving for us.

Not every crossing has active warning systems in place. Some crossings are even obscured or the signs can be difficult to see. Drivers need to be reminded to look for the tracks. Then look for the train.

Highway-grade crossing are unmarked on private roads, with tragic results.

Quiet Zones are crossings where the routine sounding of the train horn has been eliminated. The horn is only activated by the engineer for safety reasons.

Every Railroad/Highway Grade Crossing should be considered dangerous . . .

Thank you for reading this. Thanks also to the LabelMaster blog DG Digest for pointing out the FRA list.

More . . . Watch out! Highway Grade (RRX) Crossings

John Taratuta is a Risk Engineer (989) 474-9599

Private Roads: Deadly Consequences


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.


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.