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Safe Passage: What To Do at Railroad Crossings and Low Bridges

A semi truck drives over a bridge with 13 ft 10 in clearance.

Professional drivers never know what they might encounter on their daily routes. But this summer, it’s a safe bet you’ll come across two of the most common danger zones on the road: railroad crossings and low bridges. If you’re not careful, these two types of hazards can lead to serious — and even life-threatening — crashes.


Don’t be a statistic. Use these tips to navigate around railroad crossings and low clearances safely.

Make a plan. Map your route in advance and look for ways to avoid railroad crossings and low overpasses. Whenever possible, use a commercial GPS with low-clearance identification built in.

Pay attention. Watch for the crossbuck (the black-and-white “railroad crossing” signs shaped like an X) and other traffic markers that indicate a crossing.

Always expect a train. Don’t get fooled into thinking tracks are abandoned just because they aren’t in good condition.

Know that trains can’t stop quickly. An average train weighing 6,000 pounds and traveling at 55 mph takes a mile or more to stop, according to the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA).

Never try to beat the train. Obey all flashing lights, whistles, closing gates and stop signs. Never drive around a closed gate or ignore signals. Do not proceed until gates rise and all lights stop flashing.

Approach the tracks safely. Slow down. Look in both directions. Roll down your windows and turn off any radios or fans so you can hear any trains coming. If you need to stop, make sure you’re at least 15 feet away from the tracks.

Beware of low ground clearance. If the tracks are raised, know your vehicle’s ground clearance and make sure your trailer won’t get stuck while crossing.

If your rig gets stuck on the tracks, get out of your truck and step away from the crossing—even if you don’t see a train coming. Call the number posted on the crossbuck pole. If you can’t find it, call 911.

Look ahead and above. Railroad bridges can be lower than highway bridges. If you see any kind of low clearance ahead, look at the posted height. But know that those signs can be misleading. They may not account for changing road elevations due to repaving.

Know the vehicle height. The weight of your cargo can impact your vehicle’s height, so measure it before each trip.

Avoid other low-hanging objects such as tree branches and overhead wires.

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