APPLETON (NBC 26) — Cars fly over the tracks at an Appleton railroad crossing along N. McCarthy Road. It's exactly what drivers aren't suppose to do.
"A crossing like this, there aren't any gates or lights," said Gary Koerner. "So the big thing is, you've got to be prepared to stop, because the train can come at any time from any direction."
Koerner is Wisconsin's coordinator for Operation Lifesaver, a national non-profit that promotes rail safety education.
The lack of crossing arms and flashing red lights he described outlines a passive railroad crossing, many of which can be found across Northeast Wisconsin.
Last year, Koerner said there were more than 40 collisions between a truck and vehicle in Wisconsin. Two-thirds of them happened at passive railroad crossings. The remainder occurred at active crossings. In 25% of the incidents at active crossings, Koerner said a train was already in the intersection when a vehicle drove into it.
"When you see that advanced warning sign, you slow down. You prepare to stop in case a train is there," Koerner said.
People looking to walk over a railroad crossing should stop a minimum of 15 feet before the tracks. Koerner said they need to stop and listen for a train horn and look both ways before crossing. If the coast is clear, people are good to cross over the tracks.
The same rule of thumb applies for drivers, who should stop 15 to 20 feet before railroad tracks.
Any distractions should be put to bed once the yellow warning sign is in sight.
"If you've got those ear buds in, take them out so you can hear if a train is coming," Koerner said.
Trains typically overhang from the tracks at least 3 feet.
"If you're in a vehicle and traffic's backed up, just make sure you have enough room on the other side to get safely across so you're not stuck in the middle or stuck on top of the tracks," said Trooper Jamie Kahkola, Wisconsin State Patrol.
Kahkola said it can take at least a mile for a train to stop.
"By the time you see them, it might be too late."
That's why he said it's always safest to anticipate a train will pass by.
Koerner added it's illegal to walk on railroad tracks outside of the crossings. In Wisconsin, he said 11 people died last year from trespassing.
Four people have now died after a train and truck collided in Missouri. Around 150 others were injured and transferred to 10 nearby hospitals. Sixteen kids and 8 adults from two Appleton boy scout troops were aboard the train when it struck a dump truck. None of them are seriously injured.