Railroad Crossings

Badger Blog

September 21, 2022


We’ve all encountered railroad crossings in our travels. We’ve probably all been delayed by a train as it travels through a crossing. We may have all seen someone, maybe ourselves, driving around lowered crossing gates due to impatience. We should always remember that railroad crossings are dangerous places.

The Jury Box
Jury Box

According to Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) statistics, there were 2,145 railroad crossing accidents, with 286 fatalities, in the U.S. in 2021.

Here are a few more facts provided by the FRA;

  • A motorist is 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than a collision with another motor vehicle.
  • The majority of crashes between trains and automobiles occur when the train is travelling less than 30 miles per hour.
  • 20% of collisions involve the motorist striking the train.
  • A train travelling at 55 miles per hour will take a mile or more to stop.
  • 50% of car/train collisions occur within five miles of the motorist’s home.

This is sobering stuff that should remind all of us to be careful when approaching a railroad crossing.


Devices designed to warn of an approaching train are not the same at every crossing. According to the FRA, there are approximately 129,500 public railroad grade crossings in the U.S.. Over 50% of those are equipped with automatic warning systems, consisting of either flashing lights (15.5%) or flashing lights and gates (43.7%). The rest are typically equipped with only some type of signage to alert motorists of an approaching crossing, rather than an approaching train. These are common in rural areas where there is less traffic at the crossing. Interestingly, more than 60% of collisions occur at crossings that are equipped with automatic warning systems.

FRA rules require that locomotives sound their horns for 15-20 seconds before entering all public grade crossings, but not more than one-quarter mile in advance. The FRA’s required pattern for blowing the horn is two long, one short, and one long sounding horn, repeated until the locomotive clears the crossing. Some localities, with the cooperation of the FRA, have established “Quiet Zones” in which trains are not to sound their horns except in cases of emergency. The establishment of a Quiet Zone requires that certain supplemental or alternative safety measures be in place at the crossing.


So, armed with this knowledge, what should you do when you approach a railroad crossing. First, use your common sense. Here is what the law requires. Arizona law, A.R.S. § 28-851, requires that a motorist stop within fifty feet but not less than 15 feet from the nearest rail of the railroad if:

  • An electronic or mechanical signal device warns of the immediate approach of a train; OR
  • A crossing gate is lowered or a human flagman signals the approach of a train; OR
  • A train approaching within 1,500 feet of the crossing sounds its horn and the train is an immediate hazard; OR;
  • An approaching train is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to the crossing; OR
  • There exists any other condition that makes it unsafe to proceed through the crossing.

If you suspect a malfunction or false activation of a signal device, and there is no gate or barrier, you may proceed through the crossing after stopping if:

  • You have a clear line of sight at least one mile of the railroad tracks in all directions; AND
  • There is no evidence of an approaching train: AND
  • You can cross the tracks safely.

A.R.S. § 28-851 B. You must not go through, around or over a crossing gate or barrier if it is closed or is being opened or closed.

If you’ve been injured and need a lawyer who will fight for your rights, call Law Badgers at 1.833.383.4448 (833 DTF IGHT) or email us at info@lawbadgers.com. We’re here to help.

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