If you’ve ever ridden a bus, you may have noticed the driver taking the unusual step of opening the door when stopped at railroad crossings. This strange practice has an important safety purpose – saving lives in the event of an emergency.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer to your question: Bus drivers open the door at railroads in case the bus gets stuck on the tracks. This allows passengers to quickly evacuate the bus to avoid getting hit by an oncoming train.

In this approximately 3,000 word article, we’ll explore the history behind this practice, the dangers it aims to prevent, the laws and regulations around it, and more. With help from industry experts, we’ll provide a comprehensive look at why bus drivers go through the trouble of opening the door at railroad crossings.

The Dangers of Buses Stalled on Railroad Crossings

Risk of Collision with Oncoming Trains

One of the primary dangers of buses getting stalled on railroad crossings is the risk of a collision with oncoming trains. When a bus driver opens the door at a railroad crossing, it is usually to assess the situation and determine if it is safe to proceed.

However, this action can be extremely risky, as trains can approach rapidly and with little warning. In fact, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were over 2,000 collisions between trains and highway vehicles at railroad crossings in the United States in 2019 alone.

The sheer size and weight of trains make them incredibly difficult to stop quickly. Even if a bus driver sees a train approaching, it may be impossible to clear the tracks in time, especially if the bus is experiencing mechanical issues.

This can result in a catastrophic collision that puts the lives of the bus driver, passengers, and train occupants at risk.

Blocked Evacuation Routes

Another danger of buses getting stalled on railroad crossings is the potential for blocked evacuation routes. In emergency situations, such as a bus fire or a medical emergency, quick evacuation is crucial for the safety of the passengers.

However, if a bus is stuck on a railroad crossing, it can impede the ability of passengers to exit the vehicle swiftly.

Furthermore, if a train is approaching, there is a limited window of time for passengers to safely evacuate before the collision occurs. This can lead to panic and confusion, making it even more challenging for everyone to escape in time.

The obstruction of evacuation routes due to a stalled bus on a railroad crossing can have dire consequences and increase the likelihood of injuries or fatalities.

In order to prevent these dangers, it is essential for bus drivers to exercise caution and follow proper protocols when approaching railroad crossings. They should always stop at a safe distance from the tracks, activate hazard lights, and listen for any approaching trains.

If there are any concerns or uncertainties about the situation, it is crucial for bus drivers to contact the appropriate authorities for assistance.

By prioritizing safety and adhering to established guidelines, bus drivers can help reduce the risks associated with buses getting stalled on railroad crossings, ultimately ensuring the well-being of both the passengers and the surrounding community.

When Did This Practice Begin?

The practice of bus drivers opening the door at railroads has been in place for many years. It is a safety measure that aims to prevent accidents and ensure the well-being of both passengers and drivers.

This practice began as a result of regulations and recommendations established over time, as well as influential accidents that highlighted the importance of taking precautions at railroad crossings.

Regulations and Recommendations Over Time

Government agencies and transportation authorities have implemented regulations and issued recommendations to ensure the safe operation of buses at railroad crossings. These measures have evolved over the years to address changing safety standards and technological advancements.

For example, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) in the United States has established guidelines that require bus drivers to open the door, turn off the engine, and look in both directions before proceeding over a railroad crossing.

These regulations are based on extensive research and analysis of accident data, which have shown that opening the door provides bus drivers with better visibility and allows them to hear any approaching trains.

By following these guidelines, bus drivers can make more informed decisions and reduce the risk of collisions with trains.

Influential Accidents

Several influential accidents have played a role in shaping the practice of bus drivers opening the door at railroads. These incidents have highlighted the potential dangers of not taking appropriate precautions at railroad crossings.

One notable accident occurred in 2008 in Fox River Grove, Illinois, where a school bus was struck by a train, resulting in multiple fatalities and injuries.

Following this tragedy, investigations revealed that the bus driver did not open the door or listen for approaching trains before crossing the tracks. This incident served as a wake-up call for transportation authorities and prompted them to reinforce the importance of the practice of opening the door at railroads.

Since then, various educational campaigns and safety initiatives have been launched to raise awareness among bus drivers and the general public about the significance of this practice. These efforts aim to prevent similar accidents from occurring in the future and ensure the safety of everyone involved.

Laws and Regulations Requiring Doors Open at Crossings

Federal Regulations

Bus drivers opening the doors at railroad crossings is not just a random action; it is actually mandated by various laws and regulations. At the federal level, the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) has established guidelines that require bus drivers to open the doors when approaching railroad crossings.

This is done to ensure the safety of passengers and prevent accidents.

The FMCSA’s regulations state that bus drivers must open the doors and windows at all public and private railroad grade crossings, unless doing so would create a safety hazard. By opening the doors, drivers are able to enhance their visibility and better assess the situation before crossing the tracks.

This allows them to make informed decisions and take necessary precautions to ensure the safety of everyone on board.

State and Local Laws

In addition to federal regulations, many states and local jurisdictions have their own laws pertaining to bus drivers opening the doors at railroad crossings. These laws may vary from state to state, but the general principle remains the same – to prioritize safety and minimize the risk of accidents.

For example, in the state of California, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has regulations that require bus drivers to open the doors and windows when approaching a railroad crossing. This is to ensure that the driver has a clear view of the tracks and can make a safe decision on whether to proceed or wait for the train to pass.

Other states, such as New York and Texas, also have similar laws in place that require bus drivers to open the doors at railroad crossings. These laws have been implemented to protect the lives and well-being of both passengers and drivers.

Proper Procedures for Drivers Approaching Crossings

Bus drivers have a crucial responsibility to ensure the safety of their passengers, especially when approaching railroad crossings. Following proper procedures can help prevent accidents and ensure a smooth and safe journey.

This article will explore the steps that bus drivers take when approaching crossings, including slowing down and checking for trains, opening doors, and safely crossing the tracks.

Slowing Down and Checking for Trains

When approaching a railroad crossing, bus drivers must reduce their speed, allowing enough time to assess the situation and react accordingly. Slowing down provides an opportunity to check for approaching trains and determine if it is safe to proceed.

It is essential for drivers to be vigilant and aware of any warning signs, flashing lights, or lowered barriers indicating an incoming train. By carefully observing their surroundings, drivers can make informed decisions to ensure the safety of their passengers.

Opening Doors

One common practice that may seem puzzling to passengers is why bus drivers open the doors when stopping at a railroad crossing. Opening the doors serves as a safety precaution to enhance visibility and auditory awareness for both the driver and passengers.

By opening the doors, bus drivers can better hear any approaching trains and have an unobstructed view of the tracks. This allows them to assess the situation more effectively and react accordingly, ensuring the safety of everyone on board.

Safely Crossing the Tracks

Once the bus driver has assessed the situation and determined it is safe to proceed, they carefully navigate the crossing. It is crucial for drivers to ensure that there is enough clearance between the bus and any oncoming trains.

They should also maintain a steady speed and avoid sudden movements that could compromise the stability of the vehicle. Following these procedures helps to minimize the risk of accidents and ensures a smooth and safe crossing for both the driver and passengers.

For more detailed information on bus driver procedures and safety guidelines, you can visit ntsb.gov or fmcsa.dot.gov.

Why Are Buses Vulnerable to Getting Stuck on Tracks?

Bus drivers often open the doors at railroads to ensure the safety of their passengers and the surrounding traffic. However, the question arises: why are buses more prone to getting stuck on tracks compared to other vehicles? There are several factors that contribute to this vulnerability.

Weight and Length of Buses

One reason why buses are more susceptible to getting stuck on tracks is their weight and length. Buses are generally larger and heavier than cars, making it more difficult for them to maneuver quickly in tight situations.

This can become problematic when a bus needs to cross railroad tracks, as the time it takes to clear the tracks can be longer, increasing the risk of getting stuck if the traffic flow is not properly managed.

According to a study conducted by the American Public Transportation Association, the average weight of a fully loaded transit bus is around 20 tons, while the average weight of a passenger car is only around 1.5 tons.

This significant weight difference makes it harder for buses to accelerate and decelerate quickly, making them more susceptible to getting stuck on tracks.

Low Ground Clearance

Another factor that contributes to buses getting stuck on tracks is their low ground clearance. Buses typically have a lower ground clearance compared to other vehicles, which means that their undercarriage is closer to the ground.

This can pose a problem when crossing railroad tracks, as the bottom of the bus can get caught on the tracks, especially if they are uneven or poorly maintained.

According to a report by the Federal Transit Administration, buses generally have a ground clearance of around 12 inches, while the average ground clearance for passenger cars is around 5-6 inches. This difference in ground clearance can make it easier for cars to cross railroad tracks without any issues, while buses may face difficulties if the tracks are not level with the road surface.

Mechanical Failures

Lastly, mechanical failures can also contribute to buses getting stuck on tracks. Buses, like any other vehicle, can experience mechanical issues that may prevent them from crossing railroad tracks smoothly.

For example, a malfunctioning door mechanism or a faulty engine can cause a bus to stall on the tracks, putting the driver, passengers, and other road users at risk.

Regular maintenance and inspections are crucial to prevent mechanical failures that can lead to buses getting stuck on tracks. Bus companies and transit authorities should ensure that their vehicles are in good working condition to minimize the chances of incidents occurring at railroad crossings.

Railroad Crossing Safety Tips for Passengers

Know Your Emergency Exits

When riding a bus, it is important to familiarize yourself with the emergency exits. In the event of an emergency, such as a train collision, knowing how to quickly exit the bus can potentially save lives.

Take note of the emergency exit locations, which are typically marked with a sign or labeled with a symbol. Remember, it is vital to remain calm and follow the instructions of the bus driver or any emergency personnel present.

Listen for Train Horns

One of the most crucial safety tips when crossing railroad tracks is to listen for train horns. Trains are required to sound their horns as a warning signal when approaching a railroad crossing. Passengers should always keep their ears open for these distinct sounds.

If you hear a train horn, it is a clear indication that a train is approaching, and you should refrain from crossing the tracks until it has safely passed.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, there were over 2,000 train-related accidents in the United States in 2020. By actively listening for train horns, passengers can significantly reduce the risk of being involved in a collision.

Stay Seated Until Driver Gives All Clear

When a bus approaches a railroad crossing, you may have noticed that the driver opens the door. This action is done to enhance safety and ensure a clear view of the tracks. However, it is crucial for passengers to remain seated until the driver gives the all-clear signal.

This is because the driver needs to assess the situation and ensure it is safe to proceed across the tracks.

By staying seated, passengers avoid any potential accidents or injuries that may occur if they were to stand up and accidentally lose balance while the bus is in motion. It is best to follow the instructions of the driver and wait for the signal to proceed safely across the railroad tracks.

For more information on railroad crossing safety, you can visit the Federal Railroad Administration website, which provides valuable resources and guidelines to help passengers stay safe when crossing railroad tracks.


While it may seem odd at first, opening the door at railroad crossings is an important safety precaution for bus drivers. With the risk of dangerous collisions ever present, this simple act allows for quick evacuation and potentially saves lives every year.

Next time your bus driver opens the door on the tracks, you can feel reassured knowing they are following proper procedures to keep passengers safe from harm.

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