Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

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Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby railfan1988 » Sat Feb 23, 2013 1:09 am

Does anyone know if there is a law, here in Massachusetts, which specifically prohibits stopping on railroad tracks? A police officer I know said that he could find nothing about that in the Massachusetts General Laws, but from what I have heard in the past, stopping one's car on a railroad grade crossing is illegal in all states. Many grade crossings, usually ones that are located near intersections, have posted signs which say "Do Not Stop On Tracks," so that, in and of itself, should leave no doubt in one's mind that stopping on a grade crossing is against the law. Someone on here must have the answer to this...
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby 3rdrail » Sat Feb 23, 2013 1:23 am

M.G.L C90, S15 (my underline and bold)
Section 15. Except as hereinafter otherwise provided, every person operating a motor vehicle, upon approaching a railroad crossing at grade, shall reduce the speed of the vehicle to a reasonable and proper rate before proceeding over the crossing, and shall proceed over the crossing at a rate of speed and with such care as is reasonable and proper under the circumstances. Every person operating a school bus, or any motor vehicle carrying explosive substances or flammable liquids as a cargo, or part of a cargo, upon approaching a railroad crossing at grade, shall bring his vehicle to a full stop not less than fifteen feet and not more than fifty feet from the nearest track of said railroad, and shall not proceed to cross until it is safe to do so. The operator of a school bus, in addition to bringing his vehicle to a full stop, as aforesaid, shall open the service door, ascertain if he may cross safely and thereupon close said door before proceeding. Every person operating any motor vehicle, upon approaching at grade a railroad crossing protected by red lights which flash as a warning, shall bring his vehicle to a full stop not less than fifteen feet and not more than fifty feet from the nearest track of said railroad and shall not proceed to cross until said lights stop flashing. Every person operating any motor vehicle, upon approaching at grade a railroad crossing protected by a lowered automatic gate, shall bring his vehicle to a full stop not less than fifteen feet and not more than fifty feet from the nearest track of said railroad and shall not proceed to cross until said automatic gate is raised. Every person operating any motor vehicle, upon approaching at grade a railroad crossing protected by a railroad employee waving a red flag or white lantern, shall bring his vehicle to a full stop not less than fifteen feet and not more than fifty feet from the nearest track of said railroad and shall not proceed to cross until said railroad employee signals that it is safe to do so. A railroad train approaching within approximately one thousand five hundred feet of a highway crossing shall emit a warning signal audible from such distance. Whoever violates any provisions of this section and is operating a school bus, or any motor vehicle carrying explosive substances or flammable liquids as a cargo or part of a cargo, shall be punished by a fine of not less than $500 or by being required to perform a total of 100 hours of community service which may include service in the operation lifesaver program. All other persons violating the provisions of this section not operating a school bus, or any motor vehicle carrying explosive substances or flammable liquids as a cargo or part of a cargo, shall be punished by a fine of not less than $100 nor more than $200 or by being required to perform a total of 50 hours of community service which may include service in the operation lifesaver program.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby connartist88h » Sat Feb 23, 2013 1:41 am

On occasion I will see a "This bus is EMPTY" sign taped to the back of deadheading school buses, as if to imply it is okay for buses without any passengers to proceed through the crossing without opening the door or even making a full stop. The law as worded, however, doesn't seem to make any exception for an empty bus.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby sery2831 » Sat Feb 23, 2013 3:41 am

The Empty sign serves one purposes, it requires the driver to walk the bus to make sure there are no kids left on the bus.

The question is, can a vehicle stop on a railroad crossing and not violate any laws?
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby neman2 » Sat Feb 23, 2013 8:29 am

I think the original poster is asking if it is illegal to stop on a crossing where the gates or lights are not activated and the law that was posted does not address that.However there is a law about blocking an intersection,I do not know if a rail crossing can be considered an intersection.
This brings up an issue I have seen at some rail crossings involving crosswalks that are too close to rail x-ings.The one I pass by occasionally is on Commonwealth Ave in West Concord where a vehicle stopping to let a pedestrian cross would obstruct the tracks.So the driver could be ticketed for violating the crosswalk law when he was trying to avoid being hit by a train.
The approximate address if you want to view it in Google maps is 68 Commonwealth Ave.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby Teamdriver » Sat Feb 23, 2013 12:01 pm

This is RI , but how about this scenario, RR crossing in the flight path of beaucoup hazmat tanks, and its on the approach, have to travel over them slowly,pulling up and stopping to reverse direction.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby MBTA1016 » Sat Feb 23, 2013 1:25 pm

It's should be illegal everywhere. I'm not gonna get into what the law says. It's just a dangerous move anyway. Look what happened up Andover some one almost got killed because they got stuck. U dont stop on the crossing because u don't know when the gates will come down. Curves on each side of a grade crossing make it worse because u can't see a train coming if there is one. Most crossings I've seen in a populated area have signs that say don't stop on the tracks. It's should be illegal if it already isn't. What happened to common sense and does the saying "always expect a train" apply when it comes to grade crossings?
Sorry for the rant, grade crossing accidents are getting more ridiculous. People always blame the train company and the train companies shouldn't be blamed for someone's stupidity. Trains don't stop on a dime at all.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby 3rdrail » Sat Feb 23, 2013 4:54 pm

As far as stopping on the tracks in the absence of an activated device or flagman,the only other applicable violation aside from Operating so as to Endanger, possibly even amounting to Vehicular Homicide would be if there is a sign that specifically states "No Stopping", "No Stopping On the Tracks", etc.Then, it would fall under the "Traffic Control Devices - Stop and Yield Signs Violation"- C89, S9. Regardless, it seems as if the Operating to Endanger section (C90, S24), a criminal offence, would be most applicable here in any event.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby CRail » Sun Feb 24, 2013 1:30 pm

sery2831 wrote:The Empty sign serves one purposes, it requires the driver to walk the bus to make sure there are no kids left on the bus.

That's not the only purpose. The "School Bus" sign on the top of the bus implies the bus is serving that purpose, which is why it's changed to "CHARTER" when the bus is not transporting its passengers on a school route. It also has to do with licensing. Operating a school bus for its designed purpose requires a school bus endorsement on the driver's commercial license. If the driver is not transporting school children between their school and their homes, that endorsement is not required.
sery2831 wrote:The question is, can a vehicle stop on a railroad crossing and not violate any laws?

All commercial vehicles (vehicles which require a commercial license, not necessarily all vehicles with commercial plates) are required by federal law to stop before a crossing, visually check for oncoming trains, make sure there is more than enough space to get to on the other side of the crossing, and make sure there are no other commercial vehicles approaching the crossing (only one can occupy the crossing at any given time) before starting to cross. Once you begin crossing, you may not brake or change gears (if the vehicle has a manual transmission). So, I can't really think of a situation where stopping such a vehicle on the tracks wouldn't fall on the driver.

(Edited for spelling)
Last edited by CRail on Sun Feb 24, 2013 9:37 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby Xaque » Sun Feb 24, 2013 6:51 pm

3rdrail wrote:As far as stopping on the tracks in the absence of an activated device or flagman,the only other applicable violation aside from Operating so as to Endanger, possibly even amounting to Vehicular Homicide would be if there is a sign that specifically states "No Stopping", "No Stopping On the Tracks", etc.Then, it would fall under the "Traffic Control Devices - Stop and Yield Signs Violation"- C89, S9. Regardless, it seems as if the Operating to Endanger section (C90, S24), a criminal offence, would be most applicable here in any event.


While it would meet the elements of "Op to Endanger," I'd never get that to stick in my court.

From what I can tell there is no MA law specifically prohibiting stoping on a railroad crossing...

But as soon as the signals sound (Red Lights, Gates, Flagman, etc), you'd be in violation of MGL Ch90 Sec15

If it's a private crossing, or just RR tracks in general, then one could be charged with trespassing on RR property (160/218) or straight Trespass with a Motor Vehicle (266/121A). Both criminal, both arrestable offenses.

It it is a public way, not sure why someone would be stopping on it, unless they are just in traffic and there temporarily. If so as mentioned before 89/9 prohibits blocking an "intersection", but I'm not sure how the courts will rule the RR Right-of-Way. This may just be a case of "no harm, no foul"... if the person temporarily pauses on the tracks, but then moves on without a train ever coming, then what's the big deal.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby Arborwayfan » Mon Feb 25, 2013 12:20 am

"proceed over the crossing at a rate of speed and with such care as is reasonable and proper under the circumstances"

Doesn't this say that you're supposed to cross the tracks ("proceed over the crossing"), not stop on them? To us, 0 mph is not a reasonable speed over RR tracks, but that may not be obvious enough for the law to mean that you can't stop?
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby joshg1 » Mon Feb 25, 2013 1:23 am

A quick search of US Code turns up hundreds of irrelevant laws, but every state that wants federal highway money has to enact a law saying the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices is the ultimate law of the road- it's much more than signage rules. Apart from a section on flagging vehicles near construction sites, this is the relevant section- Section 8B.09 on page 760. http://mutcd.fhwa.dot.gov/pdfs/2009r1r2/part8.pdf

"…engineering study" is the key, it means the state/municipality can't put up signs/limits at will. They do, but they're not supposed to.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby Rbts Stn » Mon Feb 25, 2013 10:35 am

The crossing near the station I'm named after is a potentially very dangerous one, especially at evening rush hour. You've got the traffic on South Street, but you also have hundreds of cars coming from Turner Street office buildings and Sawyer Road office buildings, and no traffic signal. So much traffic there's a Waltham cop directing traffic from 4 to 6PM every weeknight.

If the fine for stopping on the tracks was $100, the City of Waltham could close their budget deficit and give everyone a tax rebate, if they ticketed everyone who stopped on the tracks, waiting for the go-ahead from the cop.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby Rockingham Racer » Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:06 pm

The real problem arises in the situation where there is a stop light on one or other side of the crossing, and the rear end of a vehicle will not clear. Most crossings in Wakefield, for example, on the Western Route fall into this category, and I can think of many in the Chicago area. In Chi-town, the traffic signals are interlocked with the crossing protection and will turn green quickly to allow a vehicle whose rear end doesn't clear to move forward. As someone pointed out earlier, stopping on the tracks can develop into a serious situation resulting in a collision. The trick, though, is to read the traffic ahead of you, and to anticipate that you will have to stop before the crossing to allow it to remain clear.
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Re: Is it illegal to stop on railroad tracks, here in MA?

Postby pnolette » Mon Feb 25, 2013 3:28 pm

"All commercial vehicles (vehicles which require a commercial license, not necessarily all vehicles with commercial plates) are required by federal law to stop before a crossing, visually check for oncoming trains, make sure there is more than enough space to get to on the other side of the crossing, and make sure there are no other commercial vehicles approaching the crossing (only one can occupy the crossing at any given time) before starting to cross. Once you begin crossing, you may not brake or change gears (if the vehicle has a manual transmission). So, I can't really think of a situation where stopping such a vehicle on the tracks wouldn't fall on the driver."

Only commercial veichles that carry HAZ-MAT are required to stop at crossings.Unless the rules changed,I've never heard of one truck at a time at a crossing in my 22 years of driving tractor-trailers.But yes,we use plenty of common sense when we're out there.
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