By law, all commercial motor vehicles transporting passengers or hazardous materials must stop at all highway-railroad grade crossings, with few exceptions (listed below). RCW 46.61.350
Drivers are required to stop, listen and look for approaching trains and signals indicating the approach of a train before proceeding. This is a change from the previous law which only required commercial motor vehicles to stop at grade crossings that were not protected by automatic signals.
Washington state law is consistent with the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) relating to commercial motor vehicle operators. Both state law and the CFR contain some exceptions to the stopping requirements.
The law does not apply to any railroad crossing where:
- The UTC has approved the installation of an "exempt" sign (see below) or has identified that stopping is not required under RCW 81.53.060.
- Traffic is controlled by a police officer or flagger.
- A functioning traffic control signal is transmitting a green light.
- The tracks are used exclusively for a streetcar or industrial switching purposes.
- The crossing is abandoned and is marked with a sign indicating it is out of service.
Petitions for Exemption
In Washington, the UTC does not have jurisdiction to exempt railroad crossings within First Class cities. First Class cities have independent authority to authorize the installation of exempt signs. The UTC only has regulatory authority to exempt crossings on industrial or spur lines. Currently, the only parties that can petition the UTC to exempt a railroad crossing are the road authority (typically a county or city) and the railroad.
Exempt signs are intended to inform drivers of commercial motor vehicles transporting passengers or hazardous materials that a stop is not required at certain designated railroad crossings, except when rail traffic is approaching or occupying the crossing or the driver's view is blocked.
Once a petition is received, the UTC investigates whether public safety standards are met or maintained by the proposed change. The UTC considers such factors as number and speed of vehicles crossing the railroad tracks; number and speed of trains; the geometry at the crossing (e.g. crossing angle, elevations, width of the crossing, type of crossing surface, number and type of tracks); sight distance for both train and vehicle operators; whether pedestrians use the crossing; and the accident history at the crossing. For more information, see UTC staff's general criteria for considering exempt petitions below. UTC staff are a key part of the process, along with the railroad and road authority.