Stuck or stalled on a train track? Get out and away from your vehicle fast

Minneapolis public school students had a frightening experience late last month when their bus stalled on light-rail tracks near the University of Minnesota football stadium and a train was coming.

It was just before noon on Feb. 29 when the bus carrying sixth graders from Justice Page Middle School halted as it crossed the tracks at University Avenue and Huron Boulevard. The rear of the bus blocked the eastbound tracks as a westbound train approached. The train operator was able to stop without hitting the bus, said Metro Transit spokesman Drew Kerr.

It was a close call, but aside from frayed nerves and anxious moments, no one was physically injured, representatives from the school district and Metro Transit said.

In the past decade, 39 stalled vehicles have been hit by trains in Minnesota, according to online data from the Federal Railroad Administration. Another 68 motorists who stopped on railroad crossings were hit, as were five more who were trapped on a crossing by traffic, the data said.

The collisions led to 46 deaths and 106 injuries, according to the Minnesota Department of Transportation's Highway-Rail Crash Reporting Dashboard. The counts from both agencies only include incidents that occurred on freight rail tracks from 2013 through 2022.

Last year, 29 vehicles got stuck on light-rail tracks, according to Metro Transit. The numbers show crossing tracks can be dangerous.

"It's very true," said Sheryl Cummings with Minnesota Operation Lifesaver, a railroad safety organization. "We get complacent and think there is never a train here. ... We look but are not really seeing."

Drivers only should proceed through a railroad crossing when they can completely clear the crossing without stopping. "Don't get trapped on the tracks," Lifesaver train safety materials say. But should the unfortunate happen, here is what to do.

Get out of the vehicle as quickly as possible, Cummings said.

"Trying to restart the car or fuss with the seat belt, those are precious seconds if a train comes," she said. "You feel silly if a train is not coming, but it is the safest option."

If a train is coming, move away from the crossing in the direction of the approaching train at a 45-degree angle. Trains can't stop on a dime, Cummings said, and if there is a collision, "the impact throws the debris forward. If you are running in the same direction as the train, that could hurt you."

If no train is in sight, look for the Emergency Notification System (ENS) sign usually posted at the crossing. The blue sign lists a phone number to call for help, plus the crossing number that dispatchers can relay to the railroad to shut down train traffic. ENS signs are posted at most rail crossings.

At crossings, the number to call is 1-800-848-8715. Calling 911 is an option, Cummings said.

School bus drivers who get stuck on tracks should evacuate passengers as quickly as possible, Cummings said.

"You can't assume a train will stop," Cummings said. "Trains can come at any time. It is our responsibility to keep ourselves safe."