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Snowmobilers urged to use caution near railroad tracks

The Minnesota Department of Transportation reminds snowmobilers and motorists to always use caution and observe the law when near or crossing railroad tracks.

Preliminary 2012 data shows 12 fatalities involving pedestrians trespassing on railroad property and four fatalities at rail crossings. No fatalities on railroad property or crossings have been reported in 2013.

"A freight train moving at 50 mph may need more than a mile to stop," said Bill Gardner, MnDOT's freight, rail and waterways director. "Once train engineers see a vehicle or pedestrian in a crossing or on the tracks, they can apply the emergency brakes; however, it's often too late for them to stop in time."

Most collisions with trains are preventable. Inattention and impatience are cited as the most common factors contributing to motor vehicle/train crashes.

One recent incident is a prime example of why it is important to contact authorities if your vehicle or snowmobile stalls on the tracks. In December 2012, a snowmobile got stuck on railroad tracks. The owner left to get assistance and while he was gone the snowmobile was struck by a freight train.

MnDOT urges the public to be aware of the following rail safety tips:

Snowmobilers and motorists should:

- Stop when crossing gates are down or lights are flashing

- Wait for the crossing gates to rise and lights to stop flashing, look both ways, listen and proceed with caution.

- Get out of the vehicle/off the snowmobile immediately if it stalls while crossing the tracks, and call 911 or the emergency notification number located on the railroad signal equipment.

- Be aware that trains may operate any time throughout the day and night in either direction.

Snowmobilers should:

- Cross only at designated, public crossing areas.

- Know that riding on railroad property is illegal and unsafe. Railroads generally own the land that extends about 50 feet on each side of the center of the track.

Motorists should:

- Always keep the vehicle behind the white lines when stopping at or near railroad tracks.