Responsibility & Negligence

Roads and Railroad Tracks: A Dilemma

After a train accident, railroad companies will almost always claim that the driver of the motor vehicle tried to beat the train or that they simply broke the law and ignored the warnings in place. To hear them tell it, you would hardly know that they have any responsibilities at all. The fact is, wherever the roads we drive on intersect with railroad tracks, everyone—motor vehicle drivers, railroad companies, and train crews included, has a duty to do certain things.

Drivers’ Responsibilities

A drivers’ responsibility as they approach railroad tracks is to obey all posted traffic and warning signs. Under Texas law, for example, a driver approaching a railroad grade crossing must stop not closer than 15 feet or farther than 50 feet from the nearest rail if:

  • a train approaching within approximately 1,500 feet of the highway crossing emits a signal audible from that distance and the engine is an immediate hazard because of its speed or proximity to the crossing, or;
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  • an approaching train is plainly visible to the driver and is in hazardous proximity to the crossing.

Train Crew Responsibilities

As the train crew approaches a roadway intersection, they have responsibilities which include:

  • Observing authorized track speed limits
  • Sounding the locomotive’s horn as they approach

Railroad Company Responsibilities

Railroad companies have a legal obligation to maintain safe conditions at all crossings. Their primary responsibilities include properly installing and maintaining appropriate warning devices, as well as keeping their property free of obstructions to the drivers’ line of sight. Unfortunately, railroad companies are notorious for their aversion to paying for warning devices. In many cases, the railroad company cannot even follow their own rules regarding regular clearing of trees and brush near intersections.

A crossbuck costs a small amount of money to install and has little, if any, maintenance costs. In contrast, a crossing gate equipped with lights can cost over 100,000 dollars to install, plus annual maintenance. It is no surprise to see that approximately half of the over 10,000 crossings in Texas have only crossbucks.