Driving Near Railroad Tracks

​Where can I report a signal malfunc​​​​tion problem?

Each crossing in Wisconsin has a blue emergency notification system (ENS) sign posted. The blue ENS sign lists a telephone​ number to notify the railroad of an emergency warning device malfunction. If you see a problem at a crossing, call this number as soon as possible and provide the posted crossing number.​ Local law enforcement can also contact the railroad for you. Emergency Railroad Contacts​

There is a rough crossin​g in my area, now what?

Wis. Stat. § 86.12​ requires the railroad to maintain all at-grade crossings in good condition for travel. If the railroad fails to do so, the high​way authority can enforce this law through the Office of the Commissioner of Railroads (OCR). For more information, please refer to the Rough Crossing Process​​​​​.​

What are exempt railroad crossings?

Certain crossings are signed as "Exempt" indicating that vehicles usually required to stop at crossings, need not stop at the crossing. This status is granted when it is determined that the exemption will enhance safety and operations. The exemption is typically made for two reasons:

  1. The risks of a rear-end crash are greater than a train-vehicle crash, such as at crossings with low train volumes and speeds, but high vehicle volumes and speeds.

  2. Traffic at the crossing is controlled by a traffic signal that is interconnected to the crossing signals and train detection.

Is there a State or Federal law prohibiting the railroads from blocking a crossing?​​​

Wis. Stat. § 192.292 states that it shall be unlawful to stop any railroad train, locomotive or car upon or across any highway or street crossing, outside of cities, or leave the same standing upon such crossing longer than 10 minutes, except in case of an accident.

Some cities have local ordinances that make it unlawful for a train to occupy a crossing for a certain length of time; however, these ordinances are likely preempted by federal rule. On September 20, 2018, the Wisconsin Court of Appeals issued a decision which states in part, 'the Federal Railroad Safety Act and its related regulations preempt the City's ordinance' Appeal No. 2017AP2298. ​​

The railroads will and have successfully used a preemption defense citing Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and other Federal requir​ements such as the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act of 1995​, the Federal Railroad Safety Act (FRSA), 49 U.S.C. §§ 20101-20153​, and the Interstate Commerce Commission Termination Act (ICCTA), 49 U.S.C. §§ 10101-16106​, and that it violates the Commerce Clause. U.S. Const. art. I § 8, cl. 3. 

State laws and local ordinances are preempted by federal regulations and thus are unenforceable.

​What are some safety tips to prevent accidents at railroad crossings?

  • Always expect a train at eac​h highway-rail intersection. Freight trains don't travel at fixed times and schedules for passenger trains change.

  • Cross train tracks only at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings, and obey all warning signs and signals posted there. If you cross at any other place, you are trespassing and can be ticketed or fined.

  • All train tracks are private property. Never walk on tracks; it is illegal to trespass and highly dangerous. By the time a locomotive engineer sees a trespasser or vehicle on the tracks it's too late. It can take a mile or more to stop a train.

  • Trains overhang the tracks by at least three feet in both directions; loose straps hanging from rail cars may extend even further. If you are in the right-of-way next to the tracks, you can be hit by the train.

  • Stay alert around railroad tracks. No texting, headphones or other distractions that would prevent you from hearing an approaching train; never mix rails and recreation.​

  • Be aware that trains can move in either direction at any time. Sometimes their cars are pushed by locomotives instead of being pulled, which is especially true in commuter and light rail passenger service.

  • Listen and watch closely for an approaching train. Today's trains are quieter than ever, producing no telltale "clackety-clack." Any approaching train is always closer, moving faster, than you think.

  • Watch for a second train! When you're at a crossing with more than one track, don't try to cross immediately after the end of the train passes. There may be another train approaching on the other track.

  • Prevent your vehicle from getting trapped on the tracks:

    • Always make sure before you begin crossing the tracks that there's plenty of room for you to get all the way across before having to stop again. If your vehicle stalls on the tracks, get out immediately and get as far away from it as possible. Then look for the blue ENS sign and call for help.

    • When approaching a rail crossing, watch for vehicles in front of you, like buses and some trucks, which must stop at the crossing even if there is no train coming. Beware of the optical illusion. It is virtually impossible to accurately judge the distance and speed of an approaching train.​

  • Be alert for vehicles driving in front of you that are required by law to stop at railroad crossings. State and federal regulations require motor buses transporting passengers and motor vehicles transporting chlorine, fuel and hazardous materials to stop at all highway-rail grade crossings.

    • The driver is required to look and listen for trains approaching from either direction and to cross only when it is clearly safe to do so.

    • In addition, before crossing the tracks, drivers must make certain there is enough space on the far side to allow them to completely cross the tracks if traffic requires the vehicle to stop.

    • These drivers should stop gradually to avoid being rear-ended.

    • For safety, drivers should not shift gears while crossing the tracks.​​​​​​