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Are there laws that regulate how long a train can block a road crossing?

Ken Little

“No local ordinance exists that governs the length of time that trains may occupy road crossings. However, CSX makes every effort to minimize the time that we interrupt motor vehicle traffic,” says Gary Sease, spokesman for the national freight carrier.

In an informational fact sheet about the topic, the Federal Railroad Administration states it “does not regulate the length of time a train may block a grade crossing.”

The reason?

“A federal law or regulation limiting the amount of time a grade crossing may be blocked could have the undesirable effect of causing a railroad to violate other federal safety rules such as when a train must be stopped to comply with regulations requiring that air brake tests may be performed,” the FRA fact sheet states.

FRA safety rules do address standing or idling trains that unnecessarily activate grade crossing warning devices such as flashing lights and gate arms. The federal rule specifically prohibits standing trains, locomotives, or other rail equipment from activating warning devices unless it is part of normal train movements or switching operations.

“As such, the rule makes clear that the reality of railroad operations sometimes require that trains stop in the approach circuits that activate warning devices even though the train is not occupying the crossing itself,” according to the fact sheet.

The FRA recommends that railroads “work cooperatively with state and local officials to eliminate or minimize the impact of blocked crossings wherever possible.”

The Uniform Vehicle Code, a comprehensive guide designed to help states develop standard motor vehicle and safety laws, suggests that trains not block crossings for more than five minutes. The FRA says that a majority of states place some restrictions on the amount of time a highway rail crossing can be blocked, “but in no case does it exceed more than 20 minutes.”

The FRA Web site is www.fra.dot.gov

According to state law, a motorist approaching a railroad grade crossing with a flashing signal, lowered crossing gate or evidence of a railroad train approaching within 1,500 feet must stop their vehicle within 50 feet, but not less than 15 feet, from the nearest rail of the railroad.

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6 Responses to “ Are there laws that regulate how long a train can block a road crossing?”

  1. On March 17, 2011 at 6:41 pm Benjamin R McElroy wrote:

    My name is Benjamin McElroy I live in moitor,WA where I live there is a crossing that have lights and in this article it says trains are not to unnecesarry block the crossing does that mean they are supposed to un couple the train when they do stop so that it does not block us in or what are they supposed to do please let me know because they use to uncouple the train at the crossing but now they dont and I dont know what to do

  2. On December 8, 2011 at 4:57 pm Ben McElroy wrote:

    ya I read all that mumbo jumbo too but if a train is blocking said crossing I am land locked and cant get out of my property

  3. On June 17, 2012 at 5:35 pm Ken wrote:

    I found this on a google search


    Hope it helps

  4. On July 16, 2015 at 9:10 am Jeanie Drscoll wrote:

    Is there a way that the citizens of the West End of Atlanta GA get a way of actually getting a law passed to make the CSX railroad to stop leaving their trains blocking intersections in our area. The area where I live is right behind the West End Marta train station and a lot of our people don’t have cars because we can use Marta. They keep blocking our way for hours at a time. I understand that they are loading and unloading and I try to be patient because they are necessary in our culture but 15 minutes should be ample time to at least move them from our intersection or pull them apart not to stop our “pursuit of happiness”. A while ago 2 houses burnt to the ground because they were parked for a week at our intersection. They have been good but now it looks like they are starting to slack up their rule.

  5. On July 18, 2015 at 12:29 pm Dennis Hill wrote:

    I was stopped for 45 minutes at a RR Xing in Minn..that a good time to test air brakes?..The only time I’ve been stopped longer was Kansas City MI..and that was frequent 1 or 2 hrs..The railroad industry has ‘enjoyed’ no regulations..time to bring this enjoyment to end in the 21st Century..is State law requires a train moved within at least 20 minutes..so be it..cows aren’t blocking the passage these days

  6. On July 28, 2016 at 12:58 pm Richard Azua wrote:

    I live in Olmito, Texas. We have one enter/ exit available to our neighborhood. The train frequently blocks the crossing (many times over 20-30 min). I wish someone could plan the train travel schedule a bit better than what is currently in effect. There is plenty of track available that does not block any traffic at all; why is that space not used more effectively? Also there is one train operator that blows the horn excessively long but only in the early hours of the morning; Why doesn’t this person have the commonsense or decency to realize the disturbance he causes on a regular basis or is this person just plain and simply an a**hole? The others blow the horn but with a conscience effort. I realize safety and laws apply but some courtesy would be greatly appreciated. This has been going on for years and is plain and simply frustrating.

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