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FAQ: You're stuck on train tracks! What do you do?

In light of Tuesday's Metrolink crash, it's important to know what to do if you ever find yourself accidentally stuck on train tracks.
Frederick Dennstedt/Flickr Creative Commons
In light of Tuesday's Metrolink crash, it's important to know what to do if you ever find yourself accidentally stuck on train tracks.

Tuesday's Metrolink crash — in which a commuter train bound for Los Angeles derailed after colliding with a truck that found its way onto the tracks — raised the question: What would YOU do if you accidentally drove onto train tracks?

In 2014, there were 2,068 high-rail incidents, referring to any impact between a rail and a highway user at a crossing site. The incidents resulted in 239 deaths, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. 

To help you avoid becoming a statistic yourself, we've assembled this Q&A.

What do I do if my car is stuck on train tracks? 

If you are stuck on a train track for whatever reason — your car stalls, you make a wrong turn — get yourself and others out of your vehicle immediately, Metro advises

Where should I run?

You should run from the tracks at a 45-degree-angle in the direction of the train, SoundTransit advises. This way, you will avoid being hit by debris if your vehicle gets struck by an oncoming train: Debris spreads out from the tracks in the same direction the train is moving.

The New York Times reports:

Do not try to take any of your possessions along with you, TODAY says.  

Whom do I call?

Once you are safely away from the tracks, call 911, SoundTransit suggests. 

If you are not in imminent danger, you can also alert the rail company so that they may be able to divert trains, ABC7 reports:

What are some common train signs I should know?

Common railroad signs, from the Federal Highway Administration

Common train signs and their meanings:

  • Crossbuck signs
    • These signs have the words "RAILROAD" and "CROSSING" in black and white lettering that makes a large "X" configuration.
    • If there are more than one set of tracks, this sign will also tell you how many tracks there are on a separate sign below the crossbuck.
    • If there are no flashing lights or gates, the crossbuck should be treated as a stop or yield sign, depending on whether a stop or yield sign is posted.
  • Gated crossing
    • You must stop when the lights begin to flash, which means a train is approaching. You need to remain stopped until the gates go up and the lights stops flashing.
  • Train approaching 
    • This sign indicates that a train is approaching when it is displayed at a railroad crossing 
  • Left turn or U-turns are prohibited 
    • This sign indicates that you should not make a left or U-turn when it is displayed and a train is approaching
  • Do not drive on tracks 
    • This sign indicates that it is prohibited to drive on the tracks 
  • Do not stop on tracks 
    • This sign indicates that when you are crossing tracks, you should never stop on the tracks.

How do I avoid getting stuck on train tracks in the first place?

To avoid the situation of being stuck on a train track, SoundTransit advises to: 

  • Obey all traffic signals
  • Never stop on tracks
  • Never drive around a downed crossing gate

Drivers should make sure that there is enough room to clear the tracks before they begin to drive forward, rather than staying on the tail of the car in front just because the light is green, the New York Times reports. 
Lastly, if you're driving a car with a manual transmission, you should never shift gears while crossing the tracks so as to prevent your car from accidentally stalling, ABC7 says

Below is some more information on how to avoid being hit by a train: