Railroad trespassing a major concern in U.S.

Published 9:23 pm Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Incidents like Sunday’s accident in which a train hit a pedestrian are rare but not as rare as some might think.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, the number of fatalities caused by trespassing on railroad tracks is more than the number of fatalities from trains hitting vehicles at crossings. In 2007, 486 people were killed while trespassing on railroads, and 339 were killed in vehicle crashes.

Alabama Operation Lifesaver executive director Nancy Hudson said trespassing between crossings is a serious issue.

“The only place that pedestrians, 4-wheelers and other vehicles are allowed to cross are at crossings. Railroads are private property,” Hudson said.

Alabama doesn’t seem to have as much of a problem as other states when it comes to pedestrian trespassing. Five people were killed due to illegally being on the tracks. Fifteen were killed in vehicle crashes, five of which occurred in Chilton County.

Hudson said there appears to be no apparent trend in what causes the pedestrian fatalities. There is no correlation between age and trespassing on the tracks.

“It is difficult to predict who will be killed in a pedestrian trespassing accident, so we (Operation Lifesaver) are trying to get the word out to everybody about pedestrian safety,” Hudson said.

When Operation Lifesaver holds events to raise awareness about safety, the organization stresses everyone to “Stay off! Stay away! Stay Alive!” The program states that railroad property is private property.

“Even though it might be easier to cross the tracks away from a crossing, it is much more dangerous,” Hudson said. “The engineer isn’t expecting to see someone between crossings. They only blow their horns at crossings.”

“Plus, the tracks are uneven and difficult to cross especially when a train is coming.”

The program also prompts people to stay at least 50 feet away from train tracks. Cars can have metal straps that could come off and hit someone standing too close to the tracks.

Hudson reminds people not to throw things at the trains for their safety and the safety of the conductor and engineer. She added that people should not attempt to get on trains.