What to Do in a Railroad Emergency

We had an unusual occurrence in Wichita yesterday. A cement truck overturned rounding a corner that happened to include a railroad crossing. As the overturned truck's cab laid above the tracks, a Sedgwick County sheriff's officer dragged the driver to safety moments before the locomotive struck.

According to news reports, bystanders ran up the track trying to signal the train, going 40 mph, to stop. While they were certainly well-intended, that not the right strategy. The train's crew might not have known what the bystanders were seeking, plus even if they got a hundred yards or so up the track, that is not nearly enough time to stop.

Here is what to do if you ever encounter a similar situation:

Every railroad crossing has a signal box (arrow) that provides the power and the electronic circuitry needed to operate the crossing. By law, the railroad's emergency number is painted on the box.

That telephone number goes to the railroad's "service interruption desk." They will immediately contact the dispatcher handling the train and get them to stop. Give the person who answers the emergency number the information on the placard.

Even in rural areas without an electronic crossing, the number is affixed to the crossbuck.

This is the far more effective, and safer, way to get a train stopped in an emergency. 


  1. Specifically, they need to know the DOT number, clearly marked on the box or sign. That tells them exact information about road, state, etc. That, along with the emergency, are what the railroads need to know. From a railfan...

  2. The Emergency Number is OPTIONAL on the crossing signal box, however it MUST be on or near the Crossbuck pole per FRA. But the sign may not be blue if older signs meet minimum standards.

    The TOLL FREE phone number for most RR goes directly to the DISPATCHER. If you don't see this number, call 911.

    A fully loaded train of about 30 or more cars can take a half mile or more at 30 mph and the same train traveling at 60 mph over a mile and a quarter.

    If you should stall on the tracks and a train is coming, get out, get everyone out of your car, run away from the tracks AND TOWARDS THE DIRECTION WHERE THE TRAIN IS COMING FROM. When the train hits your vehicle, the debris will fly in the direction of the train and even your vehicle could be pushed to the side. Don't stand in the street, another car coming will be more interested in watch your car get hit than seeing you in the street.


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