Every three hours someone is hit by a train in the United States. Last year more than 1,000 people were killed or injured due to risky behavior around rail crossings and tracks and these incidents were overwhelmingly preventable.

There are countless reasons to never walk, run or play on rail tracks and rail property. Most people don’t know it can take more than a mile to stop a train — the equivalent of about 18 football fields. That makes it difficult if not impossible for a train to stop if someone is on the tracks. Trains are also deceptively quiet. Even when standing on a rail platform it is unlikely a commuter will hear one approaching, especially if wearing headphones. Pedestrians are not the only ones who need to be careful, drivers also need to play it safe behind the wheel at rail crossings. The force of a train hitting a car is equivalent to that of a car hitting a soda can.

Rail accidents involving vehicles and pedestrians are almost always preventable — and everyone has a responsibility to be safe around railroad tracks. That is why railroads dedicate significant time and energy reaching out to communities, with rail safety education at the heart of this effort. From providing lesson plans and educational toolkits to teachers and conducting on-campus visits for college students to meeting with community leaders and law enforcement, railroad employees are active in the neighborhoods where they work and live, sharing their rail safety knowledge.

Railroads also support Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI), a non-profit public safety education and awareness organization dedicated to eliminating risky behavior around rail tracks and crossings. OLI reaches millions of people each year through safety presentations, training sessions, social media and special events held nationwide. OLI maintains a host of online safety tools available for parents, photographers, bus drivers, new drivers, bikers and the list goes on. OLI, together with freight, passenger, commuter railroads and federal safety agencies, launched the “See Tracks? Think Train!” public safety campaign and last year OLI inaugurated National Rail Safety Week.

Railroads and their safety partners are becoming increasingly creative in making sure their safety messages are seen and heard. To attract the attention of young sports enthusiasts, OLI in Canada recently launched a virtual reality video campaign specifically geared to ATV riders who frequently ride near snow-covered railroad lines. Thanks to efforts like these, collisions and incidents involving pedestrians, vehicles and trains have declined in recent years. Railroads will continue their many efforts to promote safe behavior around rail tracks and crossings to reduce these incidents, but they cannot do it alone; we all have a role to play.

Here is are some tips to stay safe:

  • Always expect a train – freight trains don’t follow published schedules.
  • A typical freight train can take more than a mile to stop.
  • The train you see is likely closer and faster-moving than you think.
  • The only safe place to cross the tracks is at a designated crossing.
  • Being on railroad tracks and property is not only dangerous – it’s illegal.

The next time you see tracks, think train!