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How Long Does it Take for a Train to Stop?

by on January 17, 2017


This post isn’t about railway noise and vibration.

I’ve thought about it, and I cannot decide if it is about rail safety or human stupidity.

We’ve all seen it. The person who weaves in and out of traffic erratically in order to save either a very minimal amount of time, or just has some irrepressible need to be in front of the lane for the next light in some sort of race.

I’ve wondered a lot about those people. They seem to make no distinction if they are cutting off a small car, or a semi-trailer truck fully loaded down.

It’s as if there is some underlying expectation that any of these vehicles can stop for them, taking the same time and distance in order to do so.

And Then, There’s Trains

You may have seen the scenario already. A train is heading towards a crossing…depending on the type of crossing, maybe the flashing lights and bells have come on. If there are gates as well, maybe they are just about to lower. Or maybe the train is just sounding the whistle as it approaches an uncontrolled crossing.

At the very last second, the car that has just woven in and out of traffic decides to take on the train and beat it through the crossing, rather than get stuck waiting for it to pass.

Without getting into what I believe is a whole separate issue of train length and what periods of time crossings may be blocked for, I have finally found a good video from the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration, on what happens when the car fails to cross in time in front of the train.

How Long Does it Take for a Train to Stop?

According to the Minnesota Safety Council, (Minnesota Operation Lifesaver Inc.) “The average freight train is about 1 to 1¼ miles in length (90 to 120 rail cars). When it’s moving at 55 miles an hour, it can take a mile or more to stop after the locomotive engineer fully applies the emergency brake. An 8-car passenger train moving at 80 miles an hour needs about a mile to stop.”

Given the many variables in between those two scenarios, the bottom line is that if you think that the train can slow down in time for you, you are probably in for very rough ride, and quite possibly, your last.

I have spoken to both rail personnel and transportation officials who have had the unfortunate task at some point of attending a fatal accident of one sort of another on the tracks or at a crossing.

The reaction has always the same. A short pause, and a short silence before they speak. Usually few words follow, but it is the expression on the faces of these people that says more than words can ever say.

Think about that before you try to “beat” the train next time.

Stay well, and be safe.

With credit to the U.S. Federal Railroad Administration and to the Minnesota Safety Council

© Copyright 2017

  1. You never win when racing a train and there are no ties, the train always wins. Don’t care about yourself think about the crews that have to live with the result even though they have no control over it.

  2. v humphery permalink

    Unreal !!!! Wake up People !!!!!

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