Is it illegal to go around train tracks?

Navigating the laws and safety concerns surrounding train tracks is crucial for public safety. Many people wonder about the legality of crossing or walking near train tracks, often underestimating the potential risks involved. It’s a common scenario, particularly in areas where train tracks intersect with public spaces or seem easily accessible.

However, it’s important to understand that laws and regulations are stringent in this area for a reason. At both federal and state levels, specific laws have been established to regulate activities around railroad tracks, aiming to safeguard individuals from the inherent dangers posed by these rail infrastructures.

These laws address not only the act of crossing tracks but also other activities such as walking, jogging, or even taking photographs near or on the tracks. Adherence to these laws is not only a legal obligation but also a critical measure to ensure personal safety.

Train tracks are a crucial part of the transportation infrastructure, serving both freight and passenger trains. However, they also pose potential dangers, prompting strict laws and safety regulations.

Understanding the Legal Framework

Federal and State Laws

  • Federal Laws: Governed by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), the Federal Railroad Safety Act prohibits trespassing on railroad tracks without proper authorization. This includes activities like walking, jogging, or loitering on or near the tracks​​.
  • State Laws: Each state may have its own laws regarding railroad tracks. These laws usually align with the federal regulations but might include additional restrictions or requirements​​.

Local Ordinances

  • Local Regulations: Local governments might also enact ordinances that address specific concerns related to railroad tracks. These can include restrictions on access and requirements for maintaining safety measures near the tracks​​.

Penalties for Non-Compliance

  • Fines: Imposed as a financial deterrent for unauthorized activities on train tracks. The amount can vary based on the jurisdiction and offense severity​​.
  • Jail Time: Reserved for serious violations or repeat offenders. The duration of imprisonment depends on the circumstances and the gravity of the offense​​.
  • Community Service: Serves as an alternative form of punishment and a deterrent. It involves activities that benefit the community and raise awareness about railroad safety​​.

Dangers and Risks

Risk of Train Collisions

  • Severity: Train collisions with pedestrians on tracks can be catastrophic, often resulting in severe injuries or fatalities.
  • Train Limitations: Trains require a considerable distance to stop and cannot maneuver easily, making it vital to stay off the tracks​​.

Electrocution Hazards

  • Electrified Tracks: Many train tracks are electrified, carrying high voltage electricity. Accidental contact can be fatal​​.

Slip and Fall Accidents

  • Uneven Surfaces: Tracks can be slippery, especially when wet or icy, leading to slip and fall accidents.
  • Obstructions: The area around the tracks might have obstacles, increasing the risk of tripping​​.

Safety Tips

  1. Expect a Train Always: Assume that a track is active and be alert for oncoming trains​​.
  2. Right of Way: Trains always have the right of way due to their inability to stop quickly​​.
  3. Crossing Safely: Only cross tracks at designated pedestrian or roadway crossings and avoid loitering by the tracks​​.

Frequently Asked Question

Why do buses stop at railroad tracks?

Federal law requires all buses to stop, look, and listen before crossing railroad tracks to ensure safety​​.

Is it illegal to take rocks from railroad tracks?

Removing rocks, which are vital for track stability, is generally considered illegal, especially from national historic sites​​.

Can placing a penny on the tracks derail a train?

While unlikely to derail a train, placing any object on tracks is illegal and dangerous​​.

Are railroad tracks public property?

Most freight railroads in the U.S. are privately owned, with only a few sections owned by the federal government, such as Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor​​.

Is it illegal to take photos on railroad tracks?

Taking photos on train tracks is considered illegal in most states and is categorized as criminal trespass​​.

Is it illegal to walk around train tracks?

Yes, it is generally illegal to walk on or around train tracks. This is considered trespassing and is enforced to prevent accidents and ensure safety.

Is it illegal to turn around at a train?

Turning around at a train, especially when it involves crossing the tracks, can be illegal and unsafe. Always follow traffic signals and signs at railroad crossings.

Can you play on train tracks?

No, playing on train tracks is illegal and extremely dangerous. Train tracks are for trains only, and trespassing on them poses a significant risk of accidents.

What to do if you see someone on train tracks?

If you see someone on train tracks, especially in a dangerous situation, immediately contact emergency services or the local authorities to report the incident.

Is it illegal to walk on train tracks in India?

Yes, in India, walking on train tracks is illegal and can result in penalties. Indian Railways strictly prohibits trespassing on railway tracks.

Is it safe to cross train tracks?

Crossing train tracks can be safe only at designated pedestrian crossings or overpasses. It’s essential to be cautious and follow all safety guidelines and signs at these crossings.


Navigating around train tracks requires adherence to legal regulations and an acute awareness of the inherent dangers. Unauthorized activities on or near the tracks are illegal and carry severe penalties, including fines, jail time, or community service.

More importantly, these activities pose significant safety risks, including the potential for fatal accidents. By understanding and respecting the laws and safety precautions, individuals can protect themselves and others while coexisting safely with this vital part of our transportation infrastructure.