With over 210,005 railroad crossings, of which close to 130,000 intersect with public roads in the 49 continental states, most drivers in the United States encounter crossings on a regular basis. While this adds up to hundreds of thousands of vehicles crossing train tracks each day, the number of fatalities and injuries has steadily declined over the last 30 years. The news is not all good, however, as last year witnessed close to 2,000 accidents, resulting in 235 deaths and over 913 serious injuries.

Several Midwestern states rank higher in these statistics, with Minnesota ranking eighteenth in the nation for the highest number of crashes and fourteenth for fatalities and injuries resulting from these crashes. Similarly, Minnesota's neighbor Iowa suffers an average of about 57 crashes annually, which result in about 4.5 deaths and 21 injuries.

Not all crossings are created equal


One of the approaches experts have taken to try to reduce injuries and fatalities at railroad crossings is to try identifying issues that problem crossings have in common. This search has revealed important, yet not surprising, results:

  • The majority of vehicle-train collisions since 2010 occurred at crossings without gates or flashing lights
  • The majority of train collisions involving hazardous materials occurred at crossings without gates or flashing lights

The cost of safety

Accidents are more likely to occur at "cross bucks," which are crossings with an X-shaped sign painted on the road which may be accompanied by bells and lights. Thus, safety advocates urge railroads to install much needed gates and flashing lights. At a cost of $250,000 to outfit each crossing, railroad companies seek the assistance of the federal government to take such safety precautions. In states such as Iowa, outfitting all crossings with gates and flashing lights would cost upwards of $630 million.

Unsafe rail crossing conditions can and do lead to accidents, the cost of which should not be shouldered by unsuspecting victims. Those affected by such accidents should seek advice from legal counsel in the field.