Law enforcement urges extreme caution around railroad crossings

Law enforcement encourage drivers to find an alternate route, rather than drive around lowered crossing gates.

In light of Monday's tragic accident in Batavia involving a minivan colliding with a freight train, law enforcement are urging people to always be cautious at railroad crossings, no matter the situation.

According to Sergeant Brad Johnson of the Ottumwa Police Department, every vehicle is required to stop within 50 feet and no less than 15 feet before a crossing. There are several regulations in the Ottumwa Police Code regarding different vehicles and situations, but the fine for not stopping could be up to $330.

In addition, some vehicles like school buses, passenger buses and trucks carrying hazardous material are always required to stop, whether the crossing arms are down or not.

In short, it's always better to err on the side of caution, even if you think it's safe to cross the tracks.

"If you feel that there isn't a train coming, that the arm is down for no reason, perhaps they're doing maintenance on the track, it's best to turn around and take one of the alternate routes to get across the tracks than to go around the cross arm," said Sergeant Johnson. "As we saw in Batavia [Monday] evening, there is a chance that something could be coming that you just are not able to see."

In Ottumwa, we are fortunate to have the Jefferson Street bridge that runs over the railroad tracks as a viable option for an alternate route. Most areas have at least some way to avoid crossing the tracks if you don't want to wait for the arms to come back up.

Sergeant Johnson said it's not exceedingly common to get complaints of railroad crossing violations, but it still happens a few times a year.