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Frequently Asked Questions about Highway-Rail Intersections

Why can't a train yield to an emergency vehicle?

It takes the average freight train hauling 6,000 tons and traveling at 55 mph a mile or more - the length of 18 football fields - to stop.

a police vehicle near a railroad crossing

What's louder: A train horn or an emergency vehicle siren?

Even if emergency sirens and air horns are deactivated as emergency vehicles approach crossings, ambient noise levels in their cab could mask the sound of an approaching train horn.

train in motion

What should emergency vehicle drivers do when approaching highway - rail intersections?

Turn off sirens, air horns and other sound-producing devices. Slow down, open the vehicle's window, and look both ways to see if a train is approaching. At crossings with obstructions or severe curves interfering with vision, stop your emergency vehicle and ask a crew member to go out and check on crossing safety.

a fire truck near a railroad yard

Fast Facts

Who has the right of way?

A train always has the right of way. Plan routes allowing drivers and other crew members clear views down the railroad tracks in both directions.

Know which railroads control movement on the tracks.

This is especially important if there is more than one railroad operating in your community. Make sure dispatchers have the railroads' emergency numbers.

Railroad emergency phone numbers
What to do at a blocked crossing.

If a train is blocking an intersection you must use, look for the number to call on the Emergency Notification System sign or contact your emergency dispatcher.

Avoid parking or stopping on tracks.

Emergency vehicles should park at least 15 feet from the nearest rail.

How do you notify trains of an emergency?

Tracks are active until you contact the railroad. Use all available reference points, especially the Emergency Notification System (ENS) sign. Call the number on the blue and white ENS sign and provide the DOT crossing number.

Here's a rail safety tip for fire response teams.

When fighting long-term brush or structure fires, contact the railroad before placing hoses so they can assist with feeding hoses under tracks. Doing so allows both safe, effective firefighting and train passage.

Where can I get free rail safety training?

Operation Lifesaver offers free a Railroad Investigation and Safety Course for first responders.

Schedule free RISC training
The blue and white ENS sign has critical information.

Each crossing has a blue and white Emergency Notification System (ENS) sign with a specific 800 number and crossing identification number.

Be aware of multiple tracks.

Multiple tracks can mean multiple trains traveling in either direction. Look both ways before proceeding.