Train safety

Stay Back from the Tracks

WSDOT created the Stay Back from the Tracks safety campaign to educate people about the dangers of walking on or near rail tracks, especially along the new Point Defiance Bypass that runs through Nisqually, DuPont, Lakewood, Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Tacoma and will open later in 2019. As part of the campaign, WSDOT and Operation Lifesaver staff gave train safety presentations to more than 7,000 students during school presentation and numerous residents at several community events and festivals.
More information, including safety quizzes and a train safety game video, is available at Stay Back from the Tracks.

Train Safety Guidelines

Rail is a safe and efficient way to move both people and goods. Moving goods via freight trains reduces the number of large trucks on our congested highways.

Rules to remember

Trains have the right of way

  • Trains are very heavy and can't stop quickly—even if they're traveling at low speeds
  • By the time a locomotive engineer can see you or your car, it's nearly always too late for them to stop to avoid hitting you.
  • Trains are often moving faster than they appear – never try to “beat the train”
  • Trains also can't swerve to avoid you or your car because they travel on tracks.

Never trespass or cross tracks illegally.

  • Railroad tracks are private property, not public trails.
  • It's illegal and dangerous to walk on or near tracks unless you're using a designated crossing.
  • It's also illegal and extremely dangerous to drive around closed crossing gates or to ignore flashing warning lights.
  • Trains travel in both directions on all tracks—so it's impossible to predict from which direction a train will approach.

Train Speeds   

Who can I contact about train speeds? 
The federal government controls most regulations of freight train traffic. For further information contact the federal Surface Transportation Board or the Federal Railroad Administration

The state Utilities and Transportation Commission has limited regulatory authority over railroads and can be contacted at 360-664-1160 or 800-562-6150 (in Washington state) or visit the UTC website

Grade Crossings and Grade Separations

What are grade crossings and grade separations?

  • A railroad grade crossing is an intersection where a rail line and a roadway (or pathway) cross one another at the same level. Control devices  -- such as warning signs, pavement markings and in some location crossing arms and lights -- are required at grade crossings just like intersecting roads need stop signs or traffic signals
  • A grade separation is created when a bridge or tunnel is built to allow the roadway to pass over or under the rail line, separating train traffic from all other travel.

Who can I call about grade crossings? 
Concerns about traffic backups and delays on the roadway should be directed to the local public works department in the community where the crossing exists, listed in the government pages of the phone book

If a crossing needs additional warning devices or is in need of an upgrade, contact the state Utilities and Transportation Commission in Olympia at 360-664-1262.

If crossing warning signals or gates are broken, malfunctioning or need maintenance, contact:

  • In Washington: BNSF Railway Company at 800-832-5452.  
  • In Oregon: Union Pacific Railroad at 800-848-8715.   

Train safety education


Operation Lifesaver is an international safety program designed to prevent rail-related collisions through educational outreach. To schedule a free presentation about what causes collisions and how to avoid them, call 360-664-1264. To learn more, write Washington Operations Lifesaver, PO Box 47250, Olympia, WA 98504-7250. 
Operation Lifesaver is a non-profit education and awareness program dedicated to ending tragic collisions, fatalities and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on railroad rights of way. To accomplish its mission, Operation Lifesaver promotes the 3 E's:

  • Education: Operation Lifesaver seeks to educate drivers and pedestrians to make safer decisions at crossings and around railroad tracks.  
  • Enforcement: Operation Lifesaver works with law enforcement officials to reduce grade crossing and trespassing incidents. 
  • Engineering: Operation Lifesaver encourages engineering projects to improve public safety.

Washington state has a very active Operation Lifesaver program, with volunteers educating the public at schools, county and safety fairs, malls, clubs, and professional organizations.