Compared to other types of transportation, trains are relatively safe and train fatalities are not common. They do occur, however, and the most common reason for such train fatalities involve train/highway crossings that are inadequately designed. Limited visibility for an automobile driver, limited visibility for the train operator, inadequate warning systems, and human error are all common reasons for accidents at such locations along train tracks. Other causes of fatalities due to train accidents include faulty equipment, operator error, operator fatigue, or driver failure to yield at train crossings.
Train/highway crossings are present throughout the world, posing a risk to train operators and automobile drivers if these intersections are not properly designed or maintained. Train fatalities often occur at these intersections, as drivers may not have adequate visibility at these locations. If the driver cannot see the train coming, he or she may attempt to cross the intersection while the train is coming. At most intersections, gates cross the roads to prevent drivers from crossing, but faulty equipment can play a factor in train fatalities at these crossings. Some drivers may make an operator error by trying to "beat" the crossing guards, driving across the tracks quickly before the gates drop. This is dangerous and can lead to a collision with the oncoming train.
It is very difficult to stop a train after it has built up speed, so train operators must be trained in how to safely operate all braking systems should a problem occur. One common cause of train fatalities is operator error in which the train operator does not stop or slow the train properly, or does not warn oncoming vehicles that the train is about to pass. Specific patterns of horn blasts are required at each intersection, and failure to perform these horn blasts can lead to potentially fatal accidents. Not slowing the train before curves or turns can also lead to derailment, which occurs when one or more of the train's cars or engines leaves the tracks.
Another skill train operators are trained to develop is an adherence to speed limits and an understanding of the train's handling. The speed of the train can vary depending on the terrain and the operator's control of the engine, and a train that is moving too fast along a track can derail. Stopping distances are also greatly increased as the speed of the train increases, which means the operator will have less opportunity to slow or stop the train should an emergency situation arise.