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Rail Safety Inspection Program - FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions

What should I do if I think that a railroad crossing signal is malfunctioning?

Occasionally crossing signals malfunction at highway rail grade crossings. It is important all malfunctions be reported as soon as possible.

Active warning devices are set up as failsafe devices, meaning that should a malfunction occur, the lights will flash and gates remain in the lowered position providing the maximum protection to the driving public. Signals malfunction for numerous reasons, including inclement weather conditions.

To report malfunctioning grade crossing signals call the signal hot-line at the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) 1-800-772-7677 (staffed 24 hours a day). This hot-line is only for reporting malfunctioning flashing signals, flashing lights, gates and bells. Other railroad problems should be reported to the operating railroad or TxDOT. When reporting a malfunctioning grade crossing signal to DPS it is very important that you provide them with exact location, the county, the town and the name of the street or roadway at the crossing intersection. If available the crossing identification number (DOT #) posted at each crossing is very helpful. The DOT # (6 digits followed by a letter) should be on a sign placed on the grade crossing signal mast at all public crossing or on a structure located near the crossing housing the railroad's electrical equipment.

Where may I find information on a particular crossing, for instance, DOT # ownership, number of daily trains or other related railroad crossing information?

This information may be found on the Federal Railroad Administration's website.

The trains in my neighborhood block the crossing for long periods of time. Is there a time limit on how long they can block the crossing?

The state's railroad anti-blocking statute (Section 471.007 of the Transportation Code imposed a penalty against a railway company if its train blocked a crossing for more than ten minutes) was overturned by the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2001. A copy of the Texas Attorney General's opinion from June 2005 can be found online.

Because the federal courts have ruled that federal laws preempt the state's anti-blocking statute, TxDOT does not have any statutory or regulatory authority to compel a railroad train to unblock a crossing.

As I approach a grade crossing in my neighborhood, I am unable to see very far down the tracks due to the overgrowth of vegetation. Is there someone I can contact to have this taken care of?

(The Texas Administrative Code Title 43 Rule 7.47) requires railroads to maintain the vegetation on their right-of-way tracks at all public grade crossings which do not have (electronic warning devices.) The vegetation must be kept sufficiently low so that it does not interfere with a motorist's view of the tracks the width of the railroad's right of way for distance of 250 feet on either side of the center of the crossing intersection. TxDOT personnel enforce this rule and should be contacted if a violation is noted.

If heavy vegetation is obstructing a motorist's view of the tracks at any crossing, on any railroad right-of-way or adjacent property next to the tracks drivers should note the exact location of the obstructed view and contact the TxDOT at (512) 486-5127.

There are some tracks very close to my home that I walk on to get to the store. Is this against the law?

Yes, it is against the law to walk on railroad tracks. Railroad tracks and right-of-way are private property with access strictly limited to railroad personnel and others granted permission by the railroad. All other are considered trespassers. Over 1,000 people are either killed or injured each year in the United States while trespassing on railroad tracks, in rail yards and on other railroad property.

Where can I find the rules and regulations pertaining to railroad operations in the state of Texas?
Is it OK for a pedestrian to ignore activated warning devices such as flashing red lights and lowered gates at a grade crossing?

No, the active warning devices installed at the grade crossing are not just there for the safety benefit of the vehicle but also apply to the pedestrian. Pedestrians, bicyclists and any other highway user may be cited for failing to comply with crossing signals. Never walk around or behind lowered gates at a crossing. Always wait for the lights to stop flashing or the train to pass before proceeding across the tracks.

When I am behind a school bus as I approach a railroad grade crossing, the bus always stops. Why is this?

State law requires all vehicles carrying passengers for hire, including school buses, to stop at every railroad crossing, including those with active warning devices. The operator of a school bus must stop the vehicle not closer than 15 feet nor farther away than 50 feet from the track. While stopped, the operator is to listen and look in both directions for an approaching train or activation of the crossing signals. The operator may not proceed until it is safe to do so. Carriers of flammable materials such as gasoline must also stop at all crossings.

Why is the engineer unable to stop the train to avoid hitting a person or vehicle?

Trains can't stop quickly. An average train, weighing 12 million pounds is 4,000 times heavier than the average car. After applying the emergency train brakes, a train with 100 cars traveling 55 miles per hour will take one mile or more to come to a stop. The average car traveling 55 mph on dry pavement takes 200 feet to stop.

Who are the unseen victims of grade crossing and trespasser collisions?

Every 120 minutes in the U.S., a person or vehicle is hit by a train. These incidents result in thousands of deaths and injuries each year. But the train crew involved in a fatal collision with a vehicle or a trespasser is also a victim. The train crew is often renders emergency to vehicle occupants. The impact of a vehicle-train collision has been measured by Canadian Pacific Railway to exert a force of 300gs of gravity. This force far exceeds the limits a human body can withstand in a collision. The train crew must deal with the tragic consequences of a collision that they have little or no power to avoid. Many crew members are unable to work for a time following a fatal collision. Some have even left the industry due to the cumulative effect of multiple collisions.

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