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Summer is a time where pedestrians and cyclists are out in greater numbers, and families take to the roads for their summer vacation.  In their travels, we come across railroad crossings,  at which many motorists mistakenly assume that there can’t be a train accident if there aren’t lights flashing. In reality, many railroad crossings are unguarded and even those with lights and gates may malfunction.

Train accidents and, specifically, railroad crossing accidents, can have catastrophic injuries, whether people are crossing on foot or in a car. When a train hits another vehicle — a car, truck or SUV — the results are loud and severe, and often these accidents and deaths could have been prevented.

In the last 10 years, there have been more than 30,000 railroad crossing collisions resulting in more than 3600 deaths.

Some national statistics you should know (courtesy of Operation Lifesaver, a national, non-profit education and awareness program dedicated to ending tragic collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on railroad rights of way):

  • 2,105 — Number of collisions between vehicles and trains in 2017
  • 50% — Percentage of vehicle/train collisions that occur at crossings with active warning devices (lights, gates, bells)
  • 75% — Amount of railroad crossing accidents that happen within 25 miles of one’s home

Operation Life Saver also lists the 10 most dangerous states for railroad crossing fatalities

  • Illinois
  • Florida
  • California
  • Indiana
  • Texas
  • Louisiana
  • Mississippi
  • Ohio
  • Alabama
  • Missouri


Railroad crossing collisions can have any number of causes. Some of these causes include:

  • Defective warnings — inoperable lights, bells or gates
  • Failure to properly maintain the crossing — such as allowing overgrown trees, vegetation and other foliage to obstruct or hide an oncoming train
  • Failure to install proper warnings, such as lights, alarms (crossing bells) or a functioning crossing gate
  • Improper sight lines that prevent a vehicle’s driver from seeing an oncoming train until it is too late
  • Improperly parking a train at or near a crossing — this not only hides an oncoming train from view, but gives motorists a false sense of safety in seeing a parked train at the crossing
  • Failure to sound the train’s horn or whistle at or near the crossing

A railroad company is responsible for assuring that train crossing warning systems are active and in working order. In our practice we have shown a wide variety of instances of rail companies’ negligence.  In one recent case, a train was obstructed by overgrown vegetation and the crossing lights did not activate, as railroad companies can allow weeds and grass and other vegetation to overgrow near railroad crossings.

As drivers this summer, we can increase our chances of safely navigating crossings by approaching with caution as if the safety equipment may not operate as intended.  And when vegetation is present or other potential distractions from clearly viewing the rail line in both directions, check each direction multiple times while approaching the rail crossing.


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