Railroad and train safety

Motor vehicle safety with trains

  • Freight trains don’t travel at fixed times, and schedules for passenger trains change. Always expect a train at each highway-rail intersection.
  • All train tracks are private property. Never walk on tracks; it’s illegal trespass and highly dangerous. By the time a locomotive engineer sees a trespasser or vehicle on the tracks it’s too late. It takes the average freight train traveling at 55 mph more than a mile—the length of 18 football fields—to stop. Trains cannot stop quickly enough to avoid a collision.
  • The average locomotive weighs about 400,000 pounds or 200 tons; it can weigh up to 6,000 tons. This makes the weight ratio of a car to a train proportional to that of a soda can to a car. We all know what happens to a soda can hit by a car.
  • Trains have the right of way 100 percent of the time over emergency vehicles, cars, the police and pedestrians.
  • A train can extend three feet or more beyond the steel rail, putting the safety zone for pedestrians well beyond the three foot mark. If there are rails on the railroad ties always assume the track is in use, even if there are weeds or the track looks unused.
  • Trains can move in either direction at any time. Sometimes their cars are pushed by locomotives instead of being pulled, which is especially true in commuter and light rail passenger service.
  • Today’s trains are quieter than ever, producing no telltale"clackety-clack." Any approaching train is always closer,moving faster, than you think.
  • Remember to cross train tracks only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings, and obey all warning signs and signals posted there.
  • Stay alert around railroad tracks. No texting, headphones or other distractions that would prevent you from hearing an approaching train; never mix rails and recreation.

Pedestrian safety with trains

  • The only safe place to cross is at a designated public crossing with either a cross buck, flashing red lights or a gate. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined. Cross tracks only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings.
  • Railroad tracks,trestles, yards and equipment are private property and trespassers are subject to arrest and fine. If you are in a rail yard uninvited by a railroad official you are trespassing and subject to criminal prosecution; you could be injured or killed in a busy rail yard.
  • It can take a mile or more to stop a train, so a locomotive engineer who suddenly sees someone on the tracks will likely be unable to stop in time. Railroad property is private property. For your safety, it is illegal to be there unless you are at a designated public crossing.
  • Trains overhang the tracks by at least three feet in both directions; loose straps hanging from rail cars may extend even further. If you are in the right-of-way next to the tracks, you can be hit by the train.
  • Do not cross the tracks immediately after a train passes. A second train might be blocked by the first. Trains can come from either direction. Wait until you can see clearly around the first train in both directions.
  • Flashing red lights indicate a train is approaching from either direction. You can be fined for failure to obey these signals. Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing, and do not cross the tracks until the lights have stopped flashing and it’s safe to do so.
  • Do not hunt, fish or bungee jump from railroad trestles. There is only enough clearance on the tracks for a train to pass. Trestles are not meant to be sidewalks or pedestrian bridges! Never walk, run, cycle or operate all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) on railroad tracks, rights-of-way or through tunnels.
  • Do not attempt to hop aboard railroad equipment at any time. A slip of the foot can cost you a limb or your life.
  • Be aware trains do not follow set schedules. Any Time is Train Time!

Bicycle safety with trains

  • Crossing tracks on a bicycle requires caution and extra attention. Narrow wheels can get caught between the rails. If possible, walk - don’t ride -across. Always cross at a 90-degree angle.
  • Use only designated railroad crossings. The only legal and safe place to cross railroad tracks is at a designated public crossing with a cross buck, flashing red lights or a gate. Crossing at any other location is trespassing and illegal.
  • Turn off music and remove earphones at all rail crossings. Music can be a deadly distraction near the tracks - preventing you from hearing an approaching train.
  • Wet train tracks can be slippery. Dismount and walk your bike across the tracks.  Step over the tracks - not on them - to avoid slipping.
  • Watch out for a second train. Wait after the first train passes until you can see clearly in both directions.
  • Stop if you see a train coming. Flashing lights or a lowering gate means a train is approaching. Do not proceed until the gates go completely up and the lights go off. It is illegal to go around lowered gates, whether on a bike, on foot or in a vehicle.

Operation Lifesaver in South Carolina

South Carolina Operation Lifesaver can be reached at 803-206-9081. Call to schedule a free safety presentation at your school, community club, workplace, fairs and special events.


For more information on railroads and trains safety

Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration
Safe Kids USA