As the driver of an emergency response vehicle, you know that every second counts. That makes critical decisions at intersections like highway-rail grade crossings, where it's necessary to cross over railroad tracks, especially challenging. Operation Lifesaver joins the National Volunteer Fire Council in reminding drivers of emergency vehicles to be aware of all rail routes and safety procedures in your area.

Remember these rail safety tips:

  • 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.

Common 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.

A Deadly Optical Illusion