People probably complain the most about trains when they are blocking a road crossing. Sometimes it seems like the train has been blocking a crossing for a long time. How long can a train legally block a crossing?
In Canada, under Transport Canada’s Grade Crossing Regulations, a train cannot stop on or do switching on a public grade crossing and block it for more than five minutes “when vehicular or pedestrian traffic is waiting to cross it.” (regulation 97(2))
In the USA, the federal government’s regulations override any state regulation on the duration that a train can block a crossing. However, there does not appear to be a federal limit on how long a train can block a crossing.
It’s important to note that if a train is moving slowly in one direction, it may block a crossing for more than five minutes but that isn’t “left standing” or conducting “switching operations”, so it may not be subject to the 5 minute Canadian limit.
The regulation implies that if nobody is waiting at the crossing, there is no limit on how long it can be blocked, since the train wouldn’t be preventing anyone from crossing.
Railways must clear crossings as quickly as possible for emergency vehicles.
Public Versus Private Crossings
Transport Canada makes a distinction between public and private railway crossings. A public railway crossing is where a public road or highway crosses a railway track, while a private crossing is where a private road not open to the public crosses a railway track. Examples of private crossings include those used by farmers or businesses.
Canadian Pacific Railway (CP)
CP, or the Canadian Pacific Railway, has a page on crossing regulations and standards. There is contact information at the bottom of that page. If there is an immediate safety concern, contact CP Police.
Canadian National Railway (CN)
CN has their own page for railway crossings. If you have a concern about a crossing, you can contact Public Inquiries. For immediate safety concerns, contact CN Police at 1-800-465-9239.
Union Pacific (UP)
The Union Pacific railroad has their own page for railway crossings. There’s a good section on the history of railway crossing warning systems.
Norfolk Southern (NS)
The Norfolk Southern railroad has a page on private railroad crossings.
CSX is “firmly opposed” to new grade crossings, as they say in this page.
BNFS’s page on crossings state that they have over 25,000 grade crossings.
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