As the driver of an emergency response vehicle, you wonder how fast you can get to the collision scene, and often, you only have seconds to pick the best route. Operation Lifesaver has resources to help keep you safe when responding to incidents.
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.
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.
What should drivers of emergency vehicles 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.
Other resources are available from our safety partners at the Federal Railroad Administration:
- Rail Safety for Law Enforcement - The Federal Railroad Administration's (FRA) informational video for the law enforcement community, as part of its Grade Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention program.
- Rail Safety for Law Enforcement: Incident Investigation - An FRA informational video brings a clear understanding to law enforcement officers of the challenges associated with investigating highway-rail grade crossing collisions.
- Rail Safety for Emergency Response Services - FRA’s informational video for emergency response services as part of its Grade Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention program.
- Rail Safety for Emergency Dispatchers - The FRA's informational video for emergency dispatchers, a product of the Grade Crossing Safety & Trespass Prevention program.
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 railroad controls the tracks and have emergency numbers for them at dispatch centers. This is especially important if there is more than one railroad operating in your community.
If a train is blocking an intersection you must use, contact your emergency dispatcher or the local railroad office.
Don't place emergency vehicles on tracks and expect a train to be able to stop quickly enough to avoid a collision.
To stop a train, contact the railroad. Use all available reference points, checking signal housing for DOT crossing number, to give exact locations. If known, supply railroad mile posts, road name, crossroads and town.
When fighting long-term brush or structure fires, contact the railroad to obtain clearance to move ballast stones and feed hoses under the tracks. Doing so allows both safe, effective fire fighting and train passage.