Fatalities caused by railroad trespassing soared 22.3 percent and deaths at grade crossings climbed 7.4 percent in 2017 over the previous year, Operation Lifesaver Inc.(OLI) announced yesterday.
Citing recently released Federal Railroad Administration statistics, OLI said that 575 people died and another 505 were injured in railroad trespassing incidents in 2017. Another 274 people died in collisions at grade crossings, while another 807 were injured last year.
Year over year, total casualties — deaths and injuries — from rail trespassing incidents rose 13.3 percent. The number of collisions at grade crossings last year rose 3.1 percent to 2,105 from 2,041 in 2016.
"We are very concerned about the increase in crossing incidents and deaths, and alarmed by the sharp rise in trespass deaths," said OLI Interim President Wende Corcoran in a press release.
Last year, the rail trespass casualty rate — deaths and injuries per million train miles — was 1.55, the highest level in the past decade. The highway-rail incident rate — incidents per million train miles — was 3.01, an increase from 2016, according to the FRA's preliminary statistics.
States with the most crossing collisions in 2017 were Texas, California, Illinois, Florida and Georgia. States with the most trespasser casualties — deaths and injuries combined — in 2017 were California, Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and Illinois.
OLI will focus on the trends during Rail Safety Week, which will be recognized in Sept. 23-29 in the United States and Canada, said Corcoran.
"Throughout the year, Operation Lifesaver state programs continue to work closely with the FRA and our safety partners at freight, passenger and commuter railroads and in communities across the country to help people stay safe near tracks and trains," she said.
OLI's release also included a statement from FRA Administrator Ronald Batory, who noted that the agency and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration recently re-launched "Stop. Train's Can't," a national campaign to educate the public about the dangers of grade crossings.
"The Department of Transportation is unwavering, deliberate, and committed to this important issue," Batory said.
The Association of American Railroads (AAR) earlier this week also expressed concern about the 22 percent increase in trespassing deaths. The association noted that the FRA data also confirmed that the train accident rate decreased 28 percent over the past decade.
"While the safety of rail operations remains strong, our job is not done," said AAR President and Chief Executive Officer Ed Hamberger in a press release. "The rise in pedestrian deaths in 2017 is a stark reminder of the perils of risky behavior around railroad tracks. Don't tempt fate; remember when you see tracks, think train."