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.
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

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:

"That actually means run toward the train,” said Joyce Rose, president of Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety education group. “I know it seems counterintuitive, but this is to avoid being hit by flying debris. When you run toward the train, you run away from the site of the potential collision."

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:

At every railroad crossing, you'll find an equipment box with the crossing location and a phone number on it. If you get stuck, instructors advise calling that number immediately. 

"That lets them know exactly what crossing you're at, and they can get a hold of the train and tell them what to do," said truck driving supervisor Wayne Ewing. 

What are some common train signs I should know?

Common railroad signs, from the Federal Highway Administration

Common train signs and their meanings:

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: 

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: