Faster than a speeding bullet.  More powerful than a locomotive.  Is it a bird?  A plane? A fearless motorist?

Each year, a few intrepid drivers develop a “Superman complex” and foolishly think they can outrun an oncoming train.  These newly acquired “superpowers” also negate their need to look both ways before proceeding over a railroad crossing.  More than 400 motorists are killed and over 1,200 are seriously injured annually in automobile-train collisions at railroad crossings, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

He Who Hath Greater Mass Hath Right of Way

An average train weighs about as much as 4,000 cars, and it can’t stop quickly.  A freight train traveling at 55 miles per hour can take up to a mile or a mile and a half to come to a complete stop.  In comparison, an automobile traveling at the same speed can come to a complete stop in 200 feet.  Therefore, trains ALWAYS have the right of way.

Approximate Train Stopping Distances

150-car freight train at:

30 mph = 3,500 feet or 2/3 of a mile

50 mph = 8,000 feet or 1 1/2 miles


8-car passenger train at:

60 mph = 3,500 feet or 2/3 of a mile

79 mph = 6,000 feet or 1 1/8 mile

When a train hits a car it’s equivalent to the force of a car crushing an aluminum soda can.  Motorists are 40 times less likely to survive a collision with a train than a collision with another automobile.

Stop, Look, and Look Again

Despite the best efforts of the Federal Railroad Administration, more than half of auto-train collisions occur at public crossings where there is an active warning device (flashing gates or lights).  Most of these accidents could have been avoided if the motorists simply stopped at the crossing and waited for the train to pass.

Research shows that a lot of us have common misconceptions about trains.  One fallacy is that you can judge a train’s speed and so determine whether you can beat it over the tracks.  Never try to judge a train’s speed or distance. Because of a train’s size, it often appears to be moving much slower than really is. The fact that an approaching train is visible means that it’s unsafe to cross.  If you try to outrun a train, you may not get a second chance.

Another misconception is that if you are familiar with the railroad’s schedule, you know when a train is coming and when it’s not.  But trains don’t always run on schedule, so you should drive with the assumption that a train could be on the track at any time.

Don’t Cross Me

If you’re crossing parallel tracks, when the last car of a train passes, don’t move until you’ve checked that the coast is really clear.  Sometimes another train is following right behind the first, or another could be approaching from the other direction.

Even when you don’t see a train coming, if traffic on the other side of the rails is backed up, don’t enter the crossing.  The last thing you want is to be trapped on the tracks, with  cars stopped in front and behind you, when a train has just appeared down the line.

More Powerful than a Locomotive? Not!

Avoid being an Olympic wannabe and never slalom around lowered crossing gates.  Always wait until the gates rise, and then look both ways.  If your car happens to stall on a railroad crossing, get everyone out of the vehicle and far enough away to avoid potential flying debris.

Fast Facts

•   More people die in highway-rail crashes than in commercial airline crashes each year

•   About two-thirds of all collisions at railroad crossings in the United States happen in daylight.

•   Most vehicle-train crashes occur within 25 miles of the motorist’s home

•   The majority of highway-rail crashes occur when a train is traveling less than 30mph.

•   There are approximately 260,000 highway-rail crossing in the United States.

•   About every 115 minutes a vehicle or pedestrian is struck by a train in the United States.