Criminal/Traffic laws relating to the railroads


These laws are generally used as they relate to the railroads in the United States.  Before using said laws are quoting them, you should check and confirm that the law is still applicable within the appropriate state in question:


OVERVIEW OF TRESPASS LAWS IN EACH STATE.  These may have changed and you should look up recent laws in your state before using the below laws as true and correct

 Trespassing on railroad property and facilities has become a more serious problem in recent years. According to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Railroad Safety Statistics, Annual Report 1998, there were 536 trespasser fatalities in calender year 1998.. It is against the law in all states to trespass on any private property without permission of the owner or without having an official reason, and all states provide for minimal punishments. This chapter provides a state-by-state listing of trespassing laws as they pertain to railroad property and equipment. In the majority of states, trespassing is in sections of the their respective codes concerned with property crimes and general offenses. A number of the states specifically forbid trespassing on railroad property and facilities and codify it in their respective sections concerning railroads or utilities. When punishments are spelled out in the statutes, they are listed. As in other chapters, the relevant code sections are listed. Penalties are also listed if available.

For more information from the Federal Railroad Authority on the below items please go to their website:

State laws - FRA | Federal Railroad Administration

Crossing Consolidations & Closures

Crossing Treatment Procedures

Blocked Crossings

Warning Devices - Passive

Warning Devices - Train Borne

Warning Devices - Active

Slow,Low, & Special Vehicles

Driver Action



Private Crossings

Vegetation Clearance

Photographic Monitoring & Enforcement

Crossing Consolidations & Closures

Railroad Crossing Safety for Commercial Vehicles

Railroad crossing safety takes on special importance where commercial vehicles are concerned.  When a train collides with a commercial motor vehicle (CMV), the total amount of damage done is far greater than with a passenger car.  This is because commercial vehicles are significantly larger and weigh much more.  For example, consider a semi pulling a trailer being struck by a train that stretches more than a mile in length.  The sheer mass of the objects involved in the wreck makes the results for more catastrophic.

Additionally, commercial vehicles like school busses usually carry large numbers of people.  If a bus stalls on a crossing grade, then the results can be devastating for many, many people.  One of the worst accidents in transportation history occurred on October 25, 1995, when a school bus carrying high school students in Fox River Grove, Illinois was struck by an oncoming freight train.  Seven students died and 21 more were injured, some critically.

Studies show that many commercial drivers are under-trained when it comes to knowing how to cross rail grades safely.  Unless and until this situation changes, the specter of more deaths from train-CMV collisions will continue to plague communities across the United States.

It’s important to note that railway crossing rules for commercial vehicles differ in many important ways from those for passenger cars and trucks.  This article will look at safety procedures for both professional truckers and bus drivers.

CMV Procedures for Crossing Railroad Tracks

The first step in rail crossing safety begins with route planning.  Commercial drivers should avoid railroad crossings whenever possible.  Officials who manage school or commercial busses should do the same when mapping out routes for such vehicles. 

In the event a rail crossing is unavoidable, drivers should use the following procedures:

  1. Keep an eye out for warning signs that railroad tracks are near.  The classic X-shaped round sign is the best indicator.  Also look for tracks paralleling the road and listen for the sound of a train whistle nearby.
  2. When approaching a crossing, begin slowing the vehicle well ahead of time. 
  3. Come to a stop between 15 and 50 feet from the tracks.  Use a pull-out lane if available.
  4. Turn off the vehicle radio, fan or other climate control devices, roll down the driver’s window, and listen for a train.  School bus drivers should open the folding door and make sure the students are quiet during this time.
  5. Look both ways for a train.  Then look again.  This is known as “doing a double take.”  If trees, posts, buildings, or other objects block a clear view, then rock back and forth if necessary to see around them.
  6. Look for a stop sign or traffic light on the other side of the crossing.  If there is one, then judge whether the vehicle’s length will fit in between the sign or signal and the tracks (remember that trains extend past the track’s width as much as three feet on each side).  If there’s any doubt that the vehicle will fit within the available space, then don’t attempt to cross at that point.  Remember that both busses and trucks overhang their rear wheels by several feet.  Many times, an accident has occurred because the driver forgot this crucial fact.
  7. Be especially alert to railroad crossing safety when the crossing encompasses multiple sets of tracks.  This is common near large urban areas.  Be certain to look both ways for each set, using the double-take method mentioned earlier.  For example, if the grade has three sets of tracks, look both ways a total of six times.  Make sure all the sets are clear before proceeding forward.  Also, keep an eye out while crossing the grade, just in case a train does appear.
  8. If there is no sign of an approaching train, and if there is sufficient room beyond the tracks for the vehicle to fit, then proceed carefully over the crossing.  Do so in the lowest possible gear.  Under no circumstances should gear shifting occur at a railway grade.  This can cause the engine to stall at the worst possible moment.
  9. After making the decision to pull forward, don’t stop.  Occasionally, a crossing gate on the far side of the grade may start to close after a vehicle has started to cross.  If this happens, then keep going.  Break through the gate if necessary, but under no circumstances stop the vehicle while crossing the tracks.
  10. There’s a popular myth that says trains only run at certain times of the day.  Don’t believe it.  Train schedules can be highly irregular, depending on delivery schedules and other factors.  So, if you see tracks, always assume a train might be just down the tracks.

What to Do if the Vehicle Stalls on the Tracks

  1. GET OUT.  Don’t stop to retrieve belongings.  Just exit the vehicle immediately.  Bus drivers should direct their passengers to leave in an orderly fashion.  If there is an emergency door at the rear of the bus, then this is the time to use it.  Evacuating the vehicle as quickly as possible is the highest priority when a stall occurs.
  2. Someone near the crossing is an emergency phone number for the railroad.  Find the number and call it as soon as possible, so that any approaching trains can be warned ahead of time.  Remember that trains require a mile or more (the length of 18 football fields) to come to a complete stop, so giving the engineer as much advance notice as possible is crucial.
  3. Call local law enforcement to advise them of the incident.  Commercial and school bus drivers should contact their superiors as well, to apprise them of the situation.  Under no circumstances should bus passengers be allowed to return to the vehicle for any reason.  Keep everyone calm until help arrives.
  4. If a train is in sight, then immediately start running TOWARDS it, not away.  At the same time, stay as far from the tracks as possible.  This will minimize the risk of being struck by debris when the crash occurs, and it WILL occur if the train can be seen or heard.

Railroad Crossing Signs and Signals

  1. The crossbuck sign consist of two white boards intersecting each other in an “x” shape.  It, along with the round crossing sign, is a sure signs that tracks are close by.
  2. Sometimes the crossbuck sign is combined with a smaller one underneath that says how many sets of tracks lie ahead.  For example, a site with three sets will have the crossbuck sign and the message “three tracks” below.
  3. The high center/high profile sign alerts drivers that the crossing isn’t safe for low-clearance vehicles to use. 
  4. Quiet zone signs usually say “no train horn.”  They indicate that the surrounding community has met the requirements to ban train whistles from being sounded within its limits.  In place of the whistle are enhanced crossing notices, including audible alerts that can only be heard from a short distance away.


Being a commercial driver entails demonstrating the highest levels of professionalism and devotion to safety at all times.  At no other time is this more important than when crossing railroad tracks.  Following the procedures outlined in this article will help to ensure greater safety for both motorists and the public in general.   


 Federal Regulations

Subpart B—Driving of Commercial Motor Vehicles

§392.10   Railroad grade crossings; stopping required.

(a) Except as provided in paragraph (b) of this section, the driver of a commercial motor vehicle specified in paragraphs (a) (1) through (6) of this section shall not cross a railroad track or tracks at grade unless he/she first: Stops the commercial motor vehicle within 50 feet of, and not closer than 15 feet to, the tracks; thereafter listens and looks in each direction along the tracks for an approaching train; and ascertains that no train is approaching. When it is safe to do so, the driver may drive the commercial motor vehicle across the tracks in a gear that permits the commercial motor vehicle to complete the crossing without a change of gears. The driver must not shift gears while crossing the tracks.

(1) Every bus transporting passengers,

(2) Every commercial motor vehicle transporting any quantity of a Division 2.3 chlorine.

(3) Every commercial motor vehicle which, in accordance with the regulations of the Department of Transportation, is required to be marked or placarded with one of the following classifications:

(i) Division 1.1

(ii) Division 1.2, or Division 1.3

(iii) Division 2.3 Poison gas

(iv) Division 4.3

(v) Class 7

(vi) Class 3 Flammable

(vii) Division 5.1

(viii) Division 2.2

(ix) Division 2.3 Chlorine

(x) Division 6.1 Poison

(xi) Division 2.2 Oxygen

(xii) Division 2.1

(xiii) Class 3 Combustible liquid

(xiv) Division 4.1

(xv) Division 5.1

(xvi) Division 5.2

(xvii) Class 8

(xviii) Division 1.4

(4) Every cargo tank motor vehicle, whether loaded or empty, used for the transportation of any hazardous material as defined in the Hazardous Materials Regulations of the Department of Transportation, parts 107 through 180 of this title.

(5) Every cargo tank motor vehicle transporting a commodity which at the time of loading has a temperature above its flashpoint as determined by §173.120 of this title.

(6) Every cargo tank motor vehicle, whether loaded or empty, transporting any commodity under exemption in accordance with the provisions of subpart B of part 107 of this title.

(b) A stop need not be made at:

(1) A streetcar crossing, or railroad tracks used exclusively for industrial switching purposes, within a business district, as defined in §390.5 of this chapter.

(2) A railroad grade crossing when a police officer or crossing flagman directs traffic to proceed,

(3) A railroad grade crossing controlled by a functioning highway traffic signal transmitting a green indication which, under local law, permits the commercial motor vehicle to proceed across the railroad tracks without slowing or stopping.

(4) An abandoned railroad grade crossing which is marked with a sign indicating that the rail line is abandoned,

(5) An industrial or spur line railroad grade crossing marked with a sign reading “Exempt.” Such “Exempt” signs shall be erected only by or with the consent of the appropriate State or local authority.

(Sec. 12, 80 Stat. 931; 49 U.S.C. 1651 note; 49 U.S.C. 304, 1655; 49 CFR 1.48(b) and 301.60)

[33 FR 19732, Dec. 25, 1968, as amended at 35 FR 7801, May 21, 1970; 38 FR 1589, Jan. 16, 1973; 40 FR 44555, Sept. 29, 1975; 45 FR 46424, July 10, 1980; 47 FR 47837, Oct. 28, 1982; 59 FR 63924, Dec. 12, 1994; 60 FR 38746, 38747, July 28, 1995]

Guidance for § 392.10: Railroad grade crossings; stopping required.

Question 1: Is §392.10(a)(4) applicable to drivers operating cargo tank vehicles that were used to transport hazardous materials for which placarding or marking was required, but are no longer required because the cargo tank has been emptied, or the quantity of the material has been reduced, or the temperature or characteristics of the material have changed?


No, provided the cargo tank vehicle no longer displays placards or markings indicating that the vehicle is transporting hazardous materials for which placarding or marking is required, and either: (1) the vehicle has been sufficiently cleaned of residue and purged of vapors; or (2) the vehicle is refilled with a material which is not a hazardous material; or (3) the original material no longer is an elevated temperature material or otherwise is no longer considered hazardous according to the regulations.

Although §392.10(a)(4) does not distinguish between loaded and empty cargo tank vehicles, or cargo tank vehicles transporting materials or substances that are not, at the time the vehicle is being driven across the railroad grade crossing, required to be placarded or marked, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration intends that the scope of the regulation be limited to those cases in which the vehicle is placarded or marked.


§392.11   Railroad grade crossings; slowing down required.

Every commercial motor vehicle other than those listed in §392.10 shall, upon approaching a railroad grade crossing, be driven at a rate of speed which will permit said commercial motor vehicle to be stopped before reaching the nearest rail of such crossing and shall not be driven upon or over such crossing until due caution has been taken to ascertain that the course is clear.

[33 FR 19732, Dec. 25, 1968, as amended at 60 FR 38747, July 28, 1995]


§392.12   Highway-rail crossings; safe clearance.

No driver of a commercial motor vehicle shall drive onto a highway-rail grade crossing without having sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping.

[78 FR 58923, Sept. 25, 2013]


(d) Disqualification for railroad-highway grade crossing offenses. Table 3 to §383.51 contains a list of the offenses and the periods for which a person who is required to have a CLP or CDL is disqualified, when the driver is operating a CMV at the time of the violation, as follows:

Subpart D—Driver Disqualifications and Penalties

§383.51   Disqualification of drivers.

3 to §383.51

If the driver is convicted of operating a CMV in violation of a Federal, State or local law because *  *  *.For a first conviction a person required to have a CLP or CDL and a CLP or CDL holder must be disqualified from operating a CMV for *  *  *For a second conviction of any combination of offenses in this Table in a separate incident within a 3-year period, a person required to have a CLP or CDL and a CLP or CDL holder must be disqualified from operating a CMV for *  *  *For a third or subsequent conviction of any combination of offenses in this Table in a separate incident within a 3-year period, a person required to have a CLP or CDL and a CLP or CDL holder must be disqualified from operating a CMV for *  *  *

(1) The driver is not required to always stop, but fails to slow down and check that tracks are clear of an approaching train *  *  *No less than 60 daysNo less than 120 daysNo less than 1 year.

(2) The driver is not required to always stop, but fails to stop before reaching the crossing, if the tracks are not clear *  *  *No less than 60 daysNo less than 120 daysNo less than 1 year.

(3) The driver is always required to stop, but fails to stop before driving onto the crossing *  *  *No less than 60 daysNo less than 120 daysNo less than 1 year.

(4) The driver fails to have sufficient space to drive completely through the crossing without stopping *  *  *No less than 60 daysNo less than 120 daysNo less than 1 year.

(5) The driver fails to obey a traffic control device or the directions of an enforcement official at the crossing *  *  *No less than 60 daysNo less than 120 daysNo less than 1 year.

(6) The driver fails to negotiate a crossing because of insufficient undercarriage clearance *  *  *No less than 60 daysNo less than 120 daysNo less than 1 year.



In most states, it is illegal to cross train tracks at any other place than a railroad crossing. Train tracks and the property near them are owned by the railroad company, and most of the railroad companies post No Trespassing signs prohibiting being on their property at any time.


The U.S. Federal Railway Administration (FRA) reports about 500 trespassing deaths along railroad tracks each year. A fact sheet released in 2008 by the FRA calls trespassing on railroads' private property and along rights of way "the leading cause of rail-related fatalities in America." To combat those deaths, the FRA has pushed a model code for states to enact to prevent railroad trespassing. Many of the states have adopted such an act.


A long freight train barreling behind you can take a mile to stop, and surprisingly you might not hear or see it in time to move out of the way, especially if it's coming around a bend. You're in particular danger if you cross a railroad bridge or enter a tunnel, because even if you step off the track, there's not enough clearance for you and the train. Even in the open, standing too close to the tracks puts you at risk of being struck by coal or gravel flying off a hopper car, or by metal cargo straps that break loose.


States often encourage private property owners to give access to hunters, but that doesn't include rail lines. The FRA, in its analysis of the model code, points out that a hunter shooting from railroad property to another location, or shooting from another location onto a rail line, are both considered trespassing. "Should the hunter be so lucky as to successfully shoot a prey from a safe and lawful location, he or she would then probably have to enter upon the railroad property to get the carcass," according to the FRA website.


Rail enthusiasts differ from other recreational users of railroad tracks because they're looking for trains, often to shoot pictures of them. But if an enthusiast stands on railroad property to shoot a photograph that's published in a magazine or distributed on the Web, the photo can be used as evidence of trespassing.


The FRA argues that trespassers also put train crews, rail passengers and the community at risk. To avoid striking a trespasser, a locomotive engineer might engage the emergency brake, which could derail the train, risking injury or death to anyone aboard. He could also risk spilling hazardous material from a freight car, threatening people in nearby homes.


Trespassing on railroad property is usually a misdemeanor, with penalties ranging from $100 to $1,000, and some jail time, depending on the state. If your trespass results in the injury or death of someone else, you could face felony charges. If you vandalize railroad property, such as painting graffiti on rail cars, you could face other charges.