An accident involving a train happens nearly every three hours[i]. Under Washington law, trains have the right of way. Whether you are a pedestrian, driving, on your bicycle, etc., you are required to stop when there is a train or nearby train and must give the right of way to the train. Before crossing any train tracks you should look both ways for an oncoming train. Under the law you might be required to stop depending on the type of vehicle you are driving even if no train is present. You can find out if you are required by reading RCW 46.61.345 and 46.61.350 below.
If there are barriers/indicator lights at the crossing then you MUST stop if they are closed, being closed or being opened. It is illegal for you to drive through the crossing, under the barrier or around the barrier when it is closed or being opened or closed.
You should always expect a train, this will help protect you as you go across tracks. You should also not walk along the tracks. Trains move relatively fast and are difficult to stop. This means that you need to stay out of their way. For more information on train safety you can visit the Washington Department of Transportation at: https://www.wsdot.wa.gov/Rail/TrainSafety.htm#principles.
Additionally, Washington State participates in Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety education program. Operation lifesaver is a non-profit organization working to change how people view train safety. Why do they do this? They are seeking to end collisions, deaths and injuries with trains through their national program. They promote train safety and awareness through a 3E program: Education, Enforcement and Engineering. You can learn more about train safety and this organization by visiting their website at https://oli.org/.
So if you see a train track, you should think that there is a train and look for a train. If you see a train you must stop and give the right of way to the train. This will help protect you and those you love from being injured due to an accident with a train.
Washington Rules of the Road for Railroad Crossings:
RCW 46.61.340: Approaching railroad grade crossings.
- Whenever any person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad grade crossing under any of the circumstances stated in this section, the driver of such vehicle shall stop within fifty feet but not less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail of such railroad, and shall not proceed until the crossing can be made safely. The foregoing requirements shall apply when:
- A clearly visible electric or mechanical signal device gives warning of the immediate approach of a railroad train or other on-track equipment;
- A crossing gate is lowered or when a human flagger gives or continues to give a signal of the approach or passage of a railroad train or other on-track equipment;
- An approaching railroad train or other on-track equipment is plainly visible and is in hazardous proximity to such crossing.
- No person shall drive any vehicle through, around or under any crossing gate or barrier at a railroad crossing while such gate or barrier is closed or is being opened or closed.
RCW 46.61.345: All vehicles must stop at certain railroad grade crossings.
The state department of transportation and local authorities within their respective jurisdictions are authorized to designate particularly dangerous highway grade crossings of railroads and to erect stop signs at those crossings. When such stop signs are erected the driver of any vehicle shall stop within fifty feet but not less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail of the railroad and shall proceed only upon exercising due care.
RCW 46.61.350: Approaching railroad grade crossings—Specific vehicles—Exceptions—Definition.
- (1)(a) The driver of any of the following vehicles must stop before the stop line, if present, and otherwise within fifty feet but not less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail at a railroad grade crossing unless exempt under subsection (3) of this section:
- A school bus or private carrier bus carrying any school child or other passenger;
- A commercial motor vehicle transporting passengers;
- A cargo tank, whether loaded or empty, used for transporting any hazardous material as defined in the hazardous materials regulations of the United States department of transportation in 49 C.F.R. Parts 107 through 180 as it existed on June 10, 2010, or such subsequent date as may be provided by the state patrol by rule, consistent with the purposes of this section. For the purposes of this section, a cargo tank is any commercial motor vehicle designed to transport any liquid or gaseous materials within a tank that is either permanently or temporarily attached to the vehicle or the chassis;
- A cargo tank, whether loaded or empty, transporting a commodity under exemption in accordance with 49 C.F.R. Part 107, Subpart B as it existed on June 10, 2010, or such subsequent date as may be provided by the state patrol by rule, consistent with the purposes of this section;
- A cargo tank transporting a commodity that at the time of loading has a temperature above its flashpoint as determined by the United States department of transportation in 49 C.F.R. Sec. 173.120 as it existed on June 10, 2010, or such subsequent date as may be provided by the state patrol by rule, consistent with the purposes of this section; or
- A commercial motor vehicle that is required to be marked or placarded with any one of the following classifications by the United States department of transportation in 49 C.F.R. Part 172 as it existed on June 10, 2010, or such subsequent date as may be provided by the state patrol by rule, consistent with the purposes of this section:
- Division 1.1, Division 1.2, Division 1.3, or Division 1.4;
- Division 2.1, Division 2.2, Division 2.2 oxygen, Division 2.3 poison gas, or Division 2.3 chlorine;
- Division 4.1 or Division 4.3;
- Division 5.1 or Division 5.2;
- Division 6.1 poison;
- Class 3 combustible liquid or Class 3 flammable;
- Class 7;
- Class 8.
- (b) While stopped, the driver must listen and look in both directions along the track for any approaching train or other on-track equipment and for signals indicating the approach of a train or other on-track equipment. The driver may not proceed until he or she can do so safely.
- After stopping at a railroad grade crossing and upon proceeding when it is safe to do so, the driver must cross only in a gear that permits the vehicle to traverse the crossing without changing gears. The driver may not shift gears while crossing the track or tracks.
- This section does not apply at any railroad grade crossing where:
- Traffic is controlled by a police officer or flagger.
- A functioning traffic control signal is transmitting a green light.
- The tracks are used exclusively for a streetcar or industrial switching purposes.
- The utilities and transportation commission has approved the installation of an “exempt” sign in accordance with the procedures and standards under RCW 81.53.060.
- The crossing is abandoned and is marked with a sign indicating it is out-of-service.
- The utilities and transportation commission has identified a crossing where stopping is not required under RCW 81.53.060.
- For the purpose of this section, “commercial motor vehicle” means: Any vehicle with a manufacturer’s seating capacity for eight or more passengers, including the driver, that transports passengers for hire; any private carrier bus; any vehicle used to transport property that has a gross vehicle weight rating, gross combination weight rating, gross vehicle weight, or gross combination weight of 4,536 kg (10,001 pounds) or more; and any vehicle used in the transportation of hazardous materials as defined in RCW 46.25.010.
RCW 46.61.355: Moving heavy equipment at railroad grade crossings—Notice of intended crossing.
- No person shall operate or move any crawler-type tractor, steam shovel, derrick, roller, or any equipment or structure having a normal operating speed of ten or less miles per hour or a vertical body or load clearance of less than one-half inch per foot of the distance between any two adjacent axles or in any event of less than nine inches, measured above the level surface of a roadway, upon or across any tracks at a railroad grade crossing without first complying with this section.
- Notice of any such intended crossing shall be given to the station agent of such railroad located nearest the intended crossing sufficiently in advance to allow such railroad a reasonable time to prescribe proper protection for such crossing.
- Before making any such crossing, the person operating or moving any such vehicle or equipment shall first stop the same not less than fifteen feet nor more than fifty feet from the nearest rail of such railroad and while so stopped shall listen and look in both directions along such track for any approaching train or other on-track equipment and for signals indicating the approach of a train or other on-track equipment, and shall not proceed until the crossing can be made safely.
- No such crossing shall be made when warning is given by automatic signal or crossing gates or a flagger or otherwise of the immediate approach of a railroad train or car or other on-track equipment. If a flagger is provided by the railroad, movement over the crossing shall be under the flagger’s direction.
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