Railroad crossings are designed not to fail. For instance, the lights have backup batteries so that even a power outage won't knock them out and people will still know that a train is coming.
That said, like any mechanical device, it's impossible to completely avoid failure in all instances. There is still a risk. When these crossings malfunction, it can be both confusing and dangerous for drivers.
For instance, one man said that he saw a crossing with flashing red lights, but the gates were all still up. One pedestrian gate had dropped, but those restricting car access were still raised. The bell was ringing as the lights flashed.
The man quickly ran up, got the number off of the gates and called the train company. He reported the incident, then called 911. He couldn't get through, as his cellphone signal kept breaking up. He went to a nearby store, asked to use their phone and called 911 again.
Within the hour, police were blocking the crossing and crews were working on fixing the malfunction.
In this case, no one was hurt. However, it still shows the risk. The train company didn't know of the malfunction. Neither did the police. The only reason they found out was because a private citizen saw it and went far beyond what most people would do to report it.
What if he hadn't? What if he'd just shrugged his shoulders and gone on about his day, as many people would have?
Train vs. car accidents can lead to serious injuries and death. If you're hurt or a loved one is killed, be sure you know your legal rights.
Source: JWC Daily, "What YOU Can Do When Railroad Crossing Gates," David W. Mattoon, accessed Dec. 07, 2017