Train derailments and collisions often receive lots of attention from the media, politicians, and general public. The 2016 Hoboken train crash, where a New Jersey Transit train overran the end-of-track bumper block and crashed into a wall, causing structural damage and injuries to more than 100 people, and the 2017 Brooklyn train crash, where a commuter train derailed and injured more than 100 people, come to mind.


After these railway tragedies people focus on ways to improve infrastructure and make this form of transportation safer, so that derailments and collisions happen less frequently. These are great goals, but more attention should be paid to trespassing.


Trespassing is the leading cause of rail-related fatalities in the United States. And has been since the late 1990s. Federal Railroad Administration Safety Data shows that almost two-thirds of deaths in railway incidents have been pedestrian trespassers. This excludes suicides. The number of railway trespasser deaths far exceeds the number of railroad worker deaths. In fact, it isn’t even close.


Railway Trespasser Deaths v. Grade Crossing Deaths


Over the past two decades railroads and federal government agencies have tried to reduce rail-related deaths using different strategies, including public education. These efforts have proven successful in reducing grade-crossing deaths, which fell in half between 1990 and 2016. Unfortunately the efforts have not been as successful in reducing the number of trespassing deaths.


There are two major reasons why the railroads and government have had more success reducing grade-crossing deaths.


First, trespassers, many of whom are taking a shortcut along railroad tracks to get elsewhere, may think that they will be able to hear an oncoming train and to avoid it. But this is not always the case. And if the railroad trespasser is distracted by headphones, a cell phone, or intoxication or substance use, the chance of a railway-related fatality increases.


In other words, trespassers may think that they have no risk of being struck by an oncoming train. They underestimate the risk they are putting themselves at and think that it may happen to someone else, but not to them.


Second, it is easier to identify and educate people about the risk of being killed in a grade-crossing accident: drivers. Railroads and government agencies can use billboards and the radio to educate the public about the risk. In fact, I’ve heard several radio advertisements warning about the risk of being hurt or killed in a grade-crossing accident while listening to sports talk radio over the past year.


For example, Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit organization funded by the United States Department of Transportation and the rail industry, runs a public education program aimed at preventing trespassing and improving grade-crossing safety. Though it has been shown to be successful in reducing grade crossing collisions between trains at cars, it receives only $1 million per year in funding from Congress.


Ways to Reduce Railroad-Related Fatalities Caused by Trespassing


As a Richmond, Virginia railroad worker injury lawyer and wrongful death attorney, I’ve seen firsthand the impact that accidents, injuries, and fatalities can have on friends, families, and loved ones. And I don’t want that to happen to you or anyone else.


There are several things that railroads and government agencies can do to increase railway safety and reduce railway-related deaths due to trespass. These include:


  1. Increased funding for Operation Lifesaver and related programs.
  2. Establish a federal program dedicated to preventing railroad trespassing specifically.
  3. Add more warning signs for potential railway trespassers.
  4. Add fencing around railroads.
  5. Increase policing of railroads. And if a person is violating the law, issue a citation and fine them. It’s better that they have to pay today than get hurt or killed in a railway incident at a later date.
  6. Conduct additional surveillance and studies to identify railway areas at an increased risk of trespassing and injury. Then take action to make these areas safer.
  7. Add train warning devices.


These are just a few suggestions on how to reduce railway-related fatalities. If you have any more please contact Corey Pollard today. We want to keep you and your family safe and healthy.


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