RAILROAD GRADE CROSSINGS
George F. Davison, Jr.
HAWKINS & NORRIS
2501 Grand Avenue, Suite C
Des Moines, Iowa 50321
Revised September 1994
I. Iowa Code provisions effecting railroad grade crossings and motor vehicles
A. 321.341, Iowa Code (1993)
Obedience to signal of train.
When a person driving a vehicle approaches a railroad grade crossing and warning is
given by automatic signal, crossing gates, a flag person, or otherwise of the immediate
approach of a train, the driver of the vehicle shall stop within fifty feet but not
less than fifteen feet from the nearest rail and shall not proceed until the driver
can do so safely.
The driver of a vehicle shall stop and remain standing and not traverse such a grade
crossing when a crossing gate is lowered or when a human flagman gives or continues
to give a signal of the approach or passage of a train.
B. 321.342, Iowa Code (1993)
Stop at certain railroad crossings - posting warning.
The driver of any vehicle approaching a railroad grade crossing across which traffic
is regulated by a stop sign, a railroad sign directing traffic to stop or an official
traffic control signal displaying a flashing red or steady circular red colored light shall stop prior to crossing the railroad at the first opportunity at either the
clearly marked stop line or at a point near the crossing where the driver has a clear
view of the approaching railroad traffic.
The department, city or county shall be required to post the standard sign as prescribed
by the manual on uniform traffic-control devices adopted by the department pursuant
to section 321.252 in advance of each railroad grade crossing to warn the motorist
that the motorist is approaching a railroad grade crossing. Upon properly posting
all railroad grade crossings within its jurisdiction and upon implementing the standards
established in accordance with section 307.26, the department, city, or county shall not have any other affirmative duty to warn a motor vehicle operator approaching
or at the railroad grade crossing.
C. 321.343, Iowa Code (1993)
Certain Vehicles Must Stop.
The driver of any motor vehicle carrying passengers for hire, a school bus, or a vehicle
carrying hazardous material and required to stop before crossing a railroad track
by motor carrier safety rules adopted under section 321.449, before crossing at grade any track of a railroad, shall stop the vehicle within fifty feet but not less than
fifteen feet from the nearest rail. While stopped, the driver shall listen and look
in both directions for an approaching train, and for signals indicating the approach
of a train, and shall not proceed until the driver can do so safely.
No stop need be made at a crossing where a peace officer or a traffic-control device
directs traffic to proceed. No stop need be made at a crossing designated by an
"exempt" sign. An "exempt" sign shall be posted only where the tracks have been
partially removed on either side of the roadway.
D. 321.344, Iowa Code (1993)
Heavy equipment at crossing.
No person shall operate or move any caterpillar tractor, steam shovel, derrick, roller,
or any equipment or structure having a normal operating speed of six or less miles
per hour or a vertical body or load clearance of less than nine inches above the
level surface of a roadway upon or across any tracks at a railroad grade crossing without
first complying with this section.
Notice of any such intended crossing shall be given to a superintendent of such railroad
and a reasonable time be given to such railroad to provide proper protection at such
Before making any such crossing the person operating or moving any such vehicle or
equipment shall first stop the same not less than ten feet nor more than fifty feet
from the nearest rail of such railway and while so stopped shall listen and look
in both directions along such track for any approaching train and for signals indicating the
approach of a train, and shall not proceed until the crossing can be made safely.
No such crossing shall be made when warning is given by automatic signal or crossing
gates or a flagman or otherwise of the immediate approach of a railroad train or
E. 321.344A, Iowa Code (1993)
The employee of a railroad who observes a violation of section 321.341, 321.342, 321.343,
or 321.344 may prepare a written report on a form provided by the department of public
safety indicating that a violation has occurred. The railroad employee may deliver the report not more than seventy-two hours after the violation occurred to a
peace officer of the state or a peace officer of the county or municipality in which
the violation occurred. The report shall state the time and the location at which
the violation occurred and shall include the registration plate number and a description
of the vehicle involved in the violation.
A peace officer may initiate an investigation not more than seven calendar days after
receiving a report of a violation pursuant to this section. The peace officer may
request that the owner of the vehicle supply information identifying the driver of
the vehicle in accordance with section 321.484. If from the investigation, the peace
officer is able to identify the driver of the vehicle and has reasonable cause to
believe a violation has occurred, the peace officer shall prepare a uniform traffic
citation for the violation and shall serve it personally or by certified mail on the driver
of the vehicle.
Adopted by the 74th General Assembly in 1992.
F. 321.1(64), Iowa Code (1993)
" or "signal
" means any sign, signal, or device erected by authority of a public body or official
or by a railroad and intended to give notice of the presence of railroad tracks or
the approach of a railroad train.
G. 327F.14, Iowa Code (1993)
Lights on track power cars.
Any person, firm, or corporation owning or operating a track power car in this state
shall insure that such track power car is equipped with an electric headlight that
will enable the operator to see an unlighted obstruction on the track at a distance
of three hundred feet in clear weather. A track power car shall also be equipped with
two rear electric red lights of such construction to be plainly visible during hours
of darkness on a clear night at a distance of three hundred feet.
Such lights shall be in operation when the track power care is being operated.
These lighting requirements shall not be construed to penalize any person, firm or
corporation if it can be shown that such lighting equipment was present in good and
sufficient working order at the beginning of a trip and became disabled during the
A violation of this section shall, upon conviction, be subject to a schedule "one"
H. 327G.2, Iowa Code (1993)
Crossings - signs.
Every corporation constructing or operating a railroad shall make and construct at
all points where such railway crosses any public road good, sufficient, and safe
crossings and erect at such points, at a sufficient elevation from such road as to
admit a free passage of vehicles of every kind, a sign with large and distinct letters placed
thereon, to give notice of the proximity of the railway, and warn persons of the
necessity of looking out for trains. Any railway company neglecting or refusing
to comply with the provisions of this section shall be liable for all damages sustained by
reason of such refusal or neglect, and it shall only be necessary, in order to recover,
for the injury party to prove such neglect or refusal.
I. 327G.13, 14, Iowa Code (1993)
Signals at road crossings.
A bell and a horn shall be placed on each locomotive engine operated on any railway,
which horn shall be sounded at least one thousand feet before a road crossing is
reached, and after the sounding of the horn the bell shall be rung continuously until
the crossing is passed; but at street crossings within the limits of cities the sounding
of the horn may be omitted, unless required by ordinance of resolution of the council
thereof; and the company shall be liable for all damages which shall be sustained
by any person by reason of such neglect.
Any officer or employee of any railway corporation violating any of the provisions
of section 327G.13 shall, upon conviction, be subject to a schedule "two" penalty.
J. 327G.15, Iowa Code (1993)
Railway and highway crossing at grade.
Whenever a railway track crosses or shall hereafter cross a highway, street or alley,
the railway corporation owning such track and the department, in the case of primary
highways, the board of supervisors of the county in which such crossing is located,
in the case of secondary roads, or the council of the city, in the case of streets
and alleys located within a city, may agree upon the location, manner, vacation,
physical structure, characteristics and maintenance of the crossing and flasher lights
or gate arm signals at the crossing and allocation of costs thereof. The department shall
become a party to the agreement if grade crossing safety funds are to be used. Up
to seventy-five percent of the maintenance cost of flasher lights or gate arm signals
at the crossing and an unlimited portion of the cost of installing flasher lights or
gate arm signals at the crossing may be paid from the grade crossing safety fund.
Notwithstanding other provisions of this section, maintenance of flasher lights or
gate signals installed or ordered to be installed before July 1, 1973, shall be assumed
wholly by the railroad corporation.
Payments from the grade crossing safety fund shall be made by the treasurer of state
upon certification by the department that the terms of the agreement have been followed.
The department shall promulgate rules according to chapter 17A for processing claims
to the grade crossing safety funds.
The provision of this section shall not apply to the repair of the grade crossing
K. 327G.21, Iowa Code (1993)
Condition after change - temporary ways.
When a railroad company changes, alters, or repairs a highway crossing, it shall upon
completion of the work leave it free from obstructions to travel and in good condition.
If travel will be obstructed while any alterations or repairs are being made, the railroad company shall provide safe and convenient temporary ways for the public
to avoid or pass such obstructions.
L. 327G.32, Iowa Code (1993)
Blocking highway crossing.
A railroad corporation or its employees shall not operate any train in such a manner
as to prevent vehicular use of any highway, street or alley for a period to time
in excess of ten minutes except:
Any officer or employee of a railroad corporation violating any provision of this
section shall, upon conviction by subject to the penalty provided in section 327G.14.
An employee shall not be guilty of such violation if the employee's action was necessary to comply with the director order or instructions of a railroad corporation or its
supervisors. Such guilt shall then be with the railroad corporation.
- When necessary to comply with signals affecting the safety of the movement of trains.
- When necessary to avoid striking any object or person on the track.
- When the train is disabled.
- When necessary to comply with governmental safety regulations including, but not
limited to, speed ordinances and speed regulations.
This section notwithstanding, a political subdivision may pass a resolution or ordinance
regulating the length of time a specific crossing may be blocked if the political
subdivision demonstrates that a resolution or ordinance is necessary for public safety or convenience If a resolution or ordinance is passed the political subdivision
shall within thirty days of the effective date of the resolution or ordinance notify
the department and the railroad corporation using the crossing affected by the resolution or ordinance. The resolution or ordinance shall not become effective unless the
department and the railroad corporation are notified within thirty days. The resolution
or ordinance shall become effective thirty days after notification unless a person
files an objection to the resolution or ordinance with the department. If an objection
is filed the department of inspection and appeals shall hold a hearing. The department
of inspections and appeals may disapprove the resolution or ordinance if public safety or convenience does not require a resolution or ordinance. The resolution or
ordinance approved by the political subdivision is prima facie evidence that the
resolution or ordinance is adopted to preserve public safety or convenience.
The department of inspections and appeal when considering rebuttal evidence shall
wight the benefits accruing to the political subdivision as it bears to the general
public use compared to the burden placed on the railroad operation. Public safety
or convenience may include, but shall not be limited to high traffic density at a specific
crossing of a in artery or interference with the follow of authorized emergency vehicles.
Political subdivision shall notify the authority with sixty days of July 1, 1976,
of each exiting resolution or ordnance which does not conform with the provisions
of this section. Political subdivisions not notifying the authority of an existing
resolution or ordinance during the calendar year beginning January 1, 1976 shall have an additional
sixty days after July 1, 1977 to notify the authority. Failure to do so shall render
the resolution or ordinance void.
Such ordinances or resolutions may remain in effect until the department of inspections
and appeals has acted upon each ordinance or resolution under the procedures specified
in this section.
M. 321.358, Iowa Code (1993)
Stopping, standing or parking.
No person shall stop, stand, or park a vehicle, except when necessary to avoid conflict
with other traffic or in compliance with the directions of a police officer or traffic-control
device, in any of the following places:
N. 321.288, Iowa Code (1993)
- Within fifty feet of the nearest rail of a railroad crossing, except when parked
parallel with such rail and not exhibiting a red light.
Control of vehicle -- reduced speed.
* * *
- A person operating a motor vehicle shall have the vehicle under control at all times.
- A person operating a motor vehicle shall reduce the speed to a reasonable and proper
c. When approaching and traversing a crossing or intersection of public highways,
or a bridge, sharp turn, curve, or steep descent, in a public highway.
O. 668.10, Iowa Code (1993)
In any action brought pursuant to this chapter, the state or a municipality shall
not be assigned a percentage of fault for any of the following:
P.Iowa Administrative Code provisions effecting railroad-highway crossings:
- The failure to place, erect, or install a stop sign, traffic control device, or other
regulatory sign as defined in the uniform manual for traffic control devices adopted
pursuant to section 321.252. However, once a regulatory device has been placed,
created or installed, the state or municipality may be assigned a percentage of fault
for its failure to maintain the device.
761-812.3(1) Elements used to evaluate crossing safety
. The authority having jurisdiction over the highway at the crossing shall consider
the following elements to evaluate the safety at a crossing. If one or more of these
elements are present,the crossing may qualify for traffic control devices such as
temporary stop signs, flashing signals, or flashing signals with gates in addition to
the crossbuck signs, advance warning signs, and pavement markings.
- 761-8111.1(307,327G) Standards.
All railroad-highway grade crossing warning devices installed shall be in conformance
with "Part VIII Traffic Control Systems for Railroad-Highway Grade Crossings" of
the "Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices for Streets and Highways" as adopted
in rule 761-130.1(321).
- Chapter 812, Iowa Administrative Code, Transportation (761) outlines guidelines used
by the Department of Transportation for evaluation of Rural Railroad-Highway Grade
The crossing rating number is equal to or greater than fifteen hundred.
The view up or down the track is blocked by trackside development or other obstructions
so that a motorist must proceed beyond the normal stopping point (approximately fifteen
feet from the nearest rail) to see an approaching train.
The ambient noise level outside a motor vehicle in the vicinity of the crossing is
so high that audio train signals are ineffective.
The highway surface through the crossing is in a condition or state of disrepair
that requires complete attention from a vehicle driver, or the potentia exists for
a vehicle to become stalled on the crossing.
The crossing has experienced an accident rate equal to or in excess of 0.5 accidents
per year over the five-year period preceding the date of the latest accident of record.
Q.Uniform Traffic Control manual and railroad-highway grade crossings
8A-1, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, p. 8A-1
- Provisions are found in Part VIII, Grade Crossings
- "With due regard for safety and for the integrity of operations by highway and railroad
users, the highway agency and the railroad company are entitled to jointly occupy
the right-of-way in the conduct of their assigned duties. This requires joint responsibility in the traffic control function between the public agency and the railroad.
The determination of need and selection of devices at a grade crossing is made by
the public agency with jurisdiction authority. Subject to such determination and
selection, the design, installation and operation shall be in accordance with the national
standards contained herein."
i.Crossbucks, flashing lights and gates
- Signs should be reflectorized. 8A-3, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, p.
- Types of signs and devices
ii.Advance warning signs
"At grade crossings where a substantial amount of railroad operation is conducted
at night, particularly where train speeds are low, where crossings are blocked for
long periods, or accident history indicates that motorist experience difficulty in
seeing trains or control devices during the hours of darkness, illumination at and adjacent
to the crossing may be installed to supplement other traffic control devices were
an engineering analysis determines that better visibility of the train is needed.
Regardless of the presence of other control devices, illumination will aid the motorist
in observing the presence of railroad cars on a crossing where the gradient of the
vehicular approaches is such that the headlights of an oncoming vehicle shine under
or over the cars."
8B-5, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, P. 8B-5
Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices suggests using stop signs at crossings on
secondary highways with low traffic counts; where train traffic is substantial; and
where line of sight to an approaching train is restricted. The Manual also indicates
that a Stop Ahead sign should be used in conjunction with a grade crossing stop sign.
, 8B-9, Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, p. 8B-7
II. What the Iowa Code does NOT
say about railroad grade crossings and motor vehicles
A.Lights, gates, flagmen or other types of warnings are NOT
required at each crossing
B.Determination of whether or not a crossing is ultrahazardous is left to the jury
based upon the facts and circumstances presented at trial
C.The minimum standard established by statute for warnings at a railroad crossing
is signs, sounding of a horn and ringing of a bell
D.Who has the right of way at a grade crossing -- it will depend upon the specific
facts and circumstances of each case
III. Iowa Common Law (Court decisions), railroad grade crossings, and motor vehicles
A.Gray v. Chicago, R.I. & P. Ry. Co.
, 139 N.W. 934 (Iowa 1913)
Gray was killed as result of a grade crossing collision in 1907 between a Rock Island
train and his horse and buggy. Plaintiff claimed that the railroad failed to sound
its whistle or bell at the crossing, operated the train at an unreasonable speed
over a dangerous crossing, and failed to use care and caution to look out for the safety
of persons using the crossing.
The Court notes:
". . . (O)ne approaching a railway crossing requires him to be vigilant in the use
of his senses to ascertain that no train is approaching. . . " Gray
, at 937
"It is true that a railway crossing is an inherently dangerous place, or, rather,
it is a place where danger should always be apprehended, and reasonable caution exercised
by the traveler to guard against it." Id.
, at 937-38
Contributory negligence is no longer the law of Iowa. It has been superseded by a system of what is known as comparative fault. See Iowa Code Chapter 668. Under the comparative fault scheme adopted by the Iowa General Assembly, the "fault" o">B."The general rules of law regarding the duty of one about to cross a railway crossing,
in order to free from contributory negligence, are not intricate nor obscure. All courts agree that due care requires that a traveler
under such circumstances must use his senses of sight and hearing before attempting
to cross a railway track, and in order to be free from contributory negligence must look and listen for an approaching train. A failure so to do constitutes negligence
on his party, as a matter of law. Now, if such plaintiff fails to prove that he
did not look and listen, then, applying the established rules of law, the court must
hold that as a `matter of law' the plaintiff has failed in an essential legal requisite
of his proof, and cannot recover.
"Since the advent of the automobile it has been suggested by some decisions that due
care requires that a traveler approaching a railroad crossing still have his automobile
'under control'. It is a matter of common knowledge that the ability to greatly
increase the speed of an automobile by the simple expedient of depressing the accelerator
(or as it is more commonly and vulgarly designated, by `stepping on the gas') has
promoted the temptation in numerous instances to endeavor to `beat the train' at
a railway crossing. Here again the courts are powerless to prescribe hard and fast rules
of speed or of `control' other than the general rules that a plaintiff must always
use ordinary care and prudence and do all these acts and things which a person of
ordinary care and prudence would do under the same or similar circumstances.
* * *
". . . [W]e think it [the evidence] was sufficient to carry the case to the jury on
the question of the appellee's contributory negligence. The evidence shows that
the crossing question was a more or less obscured crossing. The appellee was not
driving at an unreasonable rate of speed, and had his car under such control that he could
have stopped it within a distance of 10 feet. He knew of the presence of a train
on the track near the depot that might approach the crossing, and was required to
be on the lookout of the same. He had a right to rely, to a certain degree, upon the fact that
the city ordinance prohibited the train from moving through the town at a greater
rate of speed than 10 miles an hour, and he also had a right to rely, to a certain
extent, upon the duty resting upon the railroad company to give warning signals of its
approach to the crossing. There is no conflict in the evidence upon the fact that
he listened for such signals, and that he looked in each direction for an approaching
train. We think it was for the jury to determine, upon all of the facts and circumstances
disclosed, whether or not the appellee was guilty of contributory negligence."
Lutz v. Davis
, 195 Iowa 1049, 192 N.W. 15, 17-18 (1923).
C."...(W)e are brought to the inevitable conclusion, broadly stated, that plaintiff
drove onto this railroad crossing without looking and listening as the law requires.
Having failed to do those things which the law requires of a person approaching
a railroad track--which is a known place of danger where trains may be expected to pass
at any time--no recovery can be had. The duty is placed on the driver of an automobile
to look and listen for trains, and it was one of plaintiff's duties to look at the
place where she could have seen, and by listening she could have heard the same.
"Where the physical facts are such that, had the plaintiff looked for a train at the
distance from the track where she said he did look, she would have seen the approaching
train, her failure to see the train shows she did not look as she said she did, and she was guilty of contributory negligence as a matter of law."
Darden v. Chicago & N.W.R. Co.
, 213 Iowa 583, 586, 239 N.W. 531, 533 (1931)(citations omitted)
D."Many of our railroad crossing cases point out in substance that precedents are
of little value because the facts control and they differ." Strom v. Des Moines & Central Iowa Railway Co.
, 248 Iowa 1052, 1062, 82 N.W.2d 781, 787 (1957)(citations omitted); see also Van Patten v. Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific R. Co.
, 102 N.W.2d 898, 905 (1960)
E.". . . (T)he duty of a railroad to adequately warn of a crossing otherwise unusually
dangerous is not controlled by the volume of traffic." Wiedenfeld v. Chicago & N.W. Transp. Co.
, 252 N.W.2d 691, 700 (Iowa 1977)
F.". . . The damage to the box car and the truck and its cargo indicated the excessive
and dangerous rate of speed of the truck in a place of known danger. The absence
of skid marks gave proof no effort to stop or slow down was made. The required whistles have been blown and the bell rang as required by law. There were no obstructions
to the decedent's view and it was not a case of a train suddenly appearing from an
obscured position. there were the required warning signs. No diverting circumstances
were shown. It was the duty of the decedent to see what was plainly visible and to
avoid the collision. Had he tried to change his course, slow down, stop or do anything
to save himself there would have been physical if not eyewitness evidence of it."
Hutchinson v. Minneapolis & St. Louis Railway Co.
, 106 N.W.2d 419, 423 (Iowa 1960)
G."No claim was made that the bell-and-whistle signal was insufficient to give `warning
of the immediate approach of a train.' This is what the statute requires.
"Whether a signal meets such a test is dependent upon the particular circumstances
of the case."
Hoyt v. Chicago, Rock Island and Pacific Railroad Co.
, 206 N.W.2d 115, 118 (Iowa 1973)
H."We are satisfied from our examination of the briefs and record that the court was
warranted in instructing the jury that decedent was guilty of contributory negligence
per se by failing to stop his truck and remain standing and in traversing the crossing while the crossing gate was lowered, and the automatic signal was operative, all
as required by 321.341. . . . (E)vidence of obstruction of view and evidence that
the signal operated on occasions when no trains were approaching does not constitute
legal excuse." McDowell v. Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul & Pac. R. Co.
, 507 F.2d 5, 7 (8th Cir. 1974)
The Court of Appeals goes on to note that failure to comply with a safety statute
is negligence per se and that a legal excuse is something that would make it impossible
to comply with the statute.
The Court of Appeals also states:
"It is well-established Iowa law that a motorist approaching a known railroad crossing
must exercise care for his safety and must look and listen for approaching trains
before crossing the track. Here the evidence discloses that the decedent by looking
could have observed the approaching train a considerable distance away. The closed
gate certainly was not an invitation to the decedent to proceed across the tracks
without exercising any caution for his own safety." Id.
, at 8
I."The duty to maintain a proper lookout implies being watchful of the movements of
the driver's vehicle in relation to other things seen and which could be discerned
or seen in the exercise of ordinary care. It requires the care, watchfulness and
attention of the ordinarily prudent person in the circumstances. Bradt v. Grell Construction, Inc.
, 161 N.W.2d 336, 241 (Iowa 1968). Limited visibility increases the risks confronting
a vehicle operator. Due care requires precautions commensurate with increased risk."
Paulsen v. Des Moines U. Ry. Co.
, 262 N.W.2d 592, 597 (Iowa 1978); see also Steward v. Madison
, 278 N.W.2d 284 (Iowa 1979)
J." . . . [A] railroad company is not required to install a signalling device or station
a flagman at every railway crossing. . . [S]tatutory requirement for warnings at
railway crossing as the crossbucks, ringing the bell and blowing the whistle, are
minimum only; . . . conditions may exist which require more.
"A third principle, elementary of course, is that in this class of cases our duty
is not to decide whether the crossing in question was in fact extraordinarily hazardous
so that some warning beyond the statutory requirements was called for, but only to
say whether there was substantial evidence from which a jury might so find."
Wickman v. Illinois Central Railroad Co.
, 253 Iowa 912, 917, 114 N.W.2d 627, 620-30 (1962) cited with approval, Hines v. Illinois Central Gulf Railroad
, 330 N.W.2d 284, 286 (Iowa 1983)
"We . . . find no merit in the railroad's contention that the legislature intended
to assign to the DOT exclusive authority to determine whether a crossing is extra-hazardous.
* * *
"The DOT is provided with general duties of planning, development, regulation, and
improvement of transportation. . . . The railroad transportation division is a department
division of the DOT with the duties of its administrator prescribed in section 306.26. Subsection 5 of this section provides that the administrator shall research grade
crossings and develop a safety program. As part of the safety program the administrator
is to establish `standards for warning devices for particularly hazardous crossings. . . ' The section implements these standards by providing that it is for the
DOT to determine which crossings are hazardous. The section intends that this determination
be made not for the purpose of assessing liability in a tort action; instead it is for the purpose of determining what additional safety devices must be implemented
at crossings. We conclude that the general and special purposes of this section
evince a general plan of safety rather than a determination of liability."
, at 289-90
K."... The railroad maintains that the legislature wrote `sweeping changes into the
railroad grade crossing law' by taking the extra-hazardous crossing determination
from juries and placing it in the hands of the administrative agency. It argues
the change was warranted by `modern day safety needs' of rail and motor traffic, as well as
the `complex engineering considerations present at every railroad crossing.' It
is argued that the legislature was dissatisfied with our past application of the
common law rules which, it is said, resulted in virtually all hazardous crossing cases begin
submitted for determination by a jury.
"It seems curious that, if the legislature really intended the crucial and sweeping
changes the railroad suggests, it would be so in the manner and at the place suggested.
The rules governing negligence claims arising from railroad crossing accidents were long and painstaking in development. The cases, and the rules derived from them,
date from early statehood. The change perceived by the railroad would shift responsibility,
and presumably tort liability, from railroads to the public. And it is said that this is done by a sentence added to the second of two mere examples of advice --
in an incomplete listing -- that an agency division is required to give its director."
Sullivan v. Chicago & Northwestern Transportation Co.
, 326 N.W.2d 320, 323 (Iowa 1982)
L.Harrington v. Chicago and Northwestern Transp. Co.
, 452 N.W.2d 614 (Iowa App. 1989)
Motorist was killed while driving south on Willow Road in Missouri Valley, Harrison
County, Iowa at grade crossing with the Chicago & North Western railroad. Trial
court granted summary judgment for county and state on grounds that state and county
had no jurisdiction over the grade crossing, which was located entirely within the city
Supreme Court affirms the decision of the trial court, citing 668.10(1), Iowa Code
which provides immunity to the state for failing to install traffic control devices
such as flashing lights and crossing arms. Further, the state did not have jurisdiction and control over Willow Road, a street of the City of Missouri Valley. Likewise,
the county did not have jurisdiction over the street, and as a result, no liability.
decision presents a different result from Symmonds v. Chicago, M., St.P. & P. R. Co.
, 242 N.W.2d 262 (Iowa 1976). The Milwaukee Railroad was sued by victims of an automobile-train
collision at a Scott County secondary road crossing. There were no warning devices
or stop signs at the crossing. The Milwaukee filed a counterclaim against Scott County, seeking indemnity and/or contribution under Iowa Code 321.342 which
at that time provided:
The state highway commission with reference to primary highways and local authorities
with reference to the highways under their jurisdiction are each hereby authorized
to designate particularly dangerous highway grade crossings of railroads and to erect
stop signs thereat. When such stop signs are erected the driver of any vehicle shall
stop within fifty feet but not less than ten fee from the nearest track of such grade
crossing and shall proceed only upon exercising due care.
the Supreme Court concluded that under the statute as it then existed both the railroad
and the county had affirmative duties of due care with regard to railroad grade crossings.
The railroad was permitted to maintain its action against Scott County for failing to fulfill its obligations regarding the grade crossing (i.e.
, posting of warning signs).
M.Karl v. Burlington Northern Railroad Company
, 880 F.2d 68 (8th Cir. 1989)
Betty Karl was injured at a Burlington Northern grade crossing. Her automobile collided
with a BN locomotive.
Burlington Northern argued that federal safety and railway acts preempted any claim
of common law negligence Karl had based upon a theory of inadequacy of the warning
devices at the crossing. The Court rejects this argument, noting that the Iowa Supreme
Court has held that it is for a jury to consider whether a crossing is ultrahazardous,
not the Iowa Department of Transportation, given the facts of a particular grade
crossing incident. See Karl
, at 76-77. ". . . (W)e hold that the jury could properly find that Burlington Northern
had a common law duty to upgrade the crossing." Id.
, at 77.
IV. Iowa uniform civil jury instructions defining railroad grade crossing law and
A.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 1700.1
Railroad Crossings - Crossbuck Signs.
Railroads are required to put crossbuck signs at railroad crossings to warn people
to look out for trains. The signs must be white with the words RAILROAD CROSSING
in large and distinct black lettering.
A violation of this law is negligence.
B.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 1700.2
Railroad Crossings - Horn and Bell.
Railroads are required to sound the train's horn at least 1000 feet before the train
reaches a railroad crossing. After sounding the horn, the train must ring the train
bell until the train is past the crossing.
A violation of this law is negligence.
C.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 1700.3
Railroad Crossings - Electronic Flashing Signals and Flagman.
Unless a railroad crossing is extrahazardous, all that is required as a warning to
travelers are signs and sounding the train horn and bell. In deciding whether the
crossing has been proved to be extrahazardous, you may consider unusual conditions
like heavy traffic, anything that would interfere with visibility, and similar circumstances.
If a crossing is extrahazardous, and the railroad knows or reasonably should know
of the danger, the railroad must have either electronic flashing signals or a flagman
there to warn travelers.
A violation of this law is negligence.
D.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 1700.4
Railroad Crossings - Speed.
Railroads are required to use ordinary care as to speed of their trains at road crossings.
A violation of this law is negligence.
E.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 1700.5
Railroad Crossings - Defective Crossings (Public Highway).
Railroads are required to keep railroad crossings in good repair.
A violation of this law is negligence.
F.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 1700.6
Railroad Crossings - Headlights.
A locomotive is required to have a headlight that will make it possible for the locomotive
operator to see an unlighted obstruction on the track 300 feet ahead in clear weather.
A violation of this law is negligence.
G.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 1700.7
Railroad Crossings - Plaintiff's Negligence - Look and Listen.
A driver of a motor vehicle is required to use ordinary care in looking and listening
for trains in driving toward a railroad crossing. This must be done at a time and
place when the vehicle can be stopped if a train is seen or heard.
A violation of this law is negligence.
H.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 600.72
"Proper lookout" is the lookout a reasonable person would keep in the same or similar
situation. It means more than looking and seeing. It includes being aware of the
operation of the driver's vehicle in relation to what the driver saw or should have
A violation of this law is negligence.
I.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 600.7
Control - Common Law.
A driver must have their vehicle under control. It is under control when the driver
can guide and direct its movement, control its speed and stop it reasonable fast.
A violation of this law is negligence.
J.Iowa Civil Jury Instruction 600.8
Control of Vehicle - Statutory.
A driver operating a vehicle must have it under control and shall reduce its speed
to a reasonable and proper rate when approaching and traveling though a crossing
or intersection of highways.
A violation of this law is negligence.
V. The standard of conduct demanded by Iowa law of the railroad, railroad personnel
and the motorist
A.The railroad is required to:
B.Railroad personnel are held to a standard of due care
- Maintain a look out
- Provide warning consistent with the nature of the crossing
- Act reasonably under all the circumstance
C.The motorist is expected to:
- Maintain a look out
- Act in accordance with warnings received -- i.e.
, not go around down crossing gates; stop at the crossing when a train is approaching,
lights activated, whistle sounded
- Act reasonably under all the circumstances