Pedestrian Train Accidents

Pedestrians often take shortcuts across or along railroad tracks that divide neighborhoods and cities. When pedestrians are injured or killed while doing so, railroad companies can be quick to label and vilify the victims as “trespassers.”

The Federal Railroad Administration and other industry leaders recognize that the relationship between pedestrians and railroad tracks is complicated. Many pedestrians choose to use unofficial pathways rather than go miles out of their way to reach designated vehicle crossings for their daily trips to schools, work, and grocery stores. Recreational activities such as walking, biking, fishing, snowmobiling, and many more may bring individuals dangerously close to railroad tracks. Wheelchairs can become stuck on poorly maintained crossings. Children are naturally drawn to railroad tracks and trains. This inherent curiosity combined with inadequate safety measures and systems can be tragic.

Railroads are aware that rights-of-way are dangerous places for pedestrians. The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) has organized industry workshops to address nationwide safety concerns and “to identify and recommend new and existing strategies that the rail industry could pursue to assist in reducing the number of pedestrian and trespasser casualties.” Access presentations from the 2008, 2012, and 2015 workshops.

Representatives from major freight and passenger railroads have attended these workshops, including BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, and Norfolk Southern, as well as many other regional and local freight and passenger railroads.

The Workshops discussed the industry standards and recommend practices concerning fencing:

  • Recommendations of the 2012 Workshop: The FRA issued a summary of the recommended best practices to abate right-of-way casualties. This included recommendations from the “Design, Technology, & Infrastructure Group,” the group responsible for engineering solutions such as fencing. The number one recommendation from the group to prevent casualties was fencing. The group stated, “There is a real need to seal our corridors [rights-of-way] and we need a more robust style of fencing.” They concluded that the industry needs “to find a way to keep up with chain-link fencing repairs,” which indicates that the industry is using chain-link fencing to prevent trespassing. They also stated that bulk-buy would make using fencing to mitigate intrusion onto rights-of-way more cost-effective.

  • FRA Trespass Prevention Research Study: Study of trespass activity and mitigation for a specific urban site in West Palm Beach, Florida. Presented an assessment methodology for trespassing clusters (based on seriousness and frequency of activity) and the methods for mitigating those problems. Fencing and “channeling” pedestrians is promoted as a mitigation technique. BNSF follows neither strategy.
us-trespass-crossing-fatalities-by-year.jpg
  • Hazardous Assessment Approach to Trespass Management: Discusses a basic method for prioritizing fencing projects so that they will be most effective. Based primarily on number of trespass reports, previous accidents, and debris strikes. Fencing should be placed to abate trespassing.

Industry research shows that fencing and other economical engineering solutions are highly effective deterrents. The journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention conducted a study in Finland to track countermeasures to right-of-way trespass. The study measured the impact of three trespass mitigation strategies at highly trespassed areas, namely fencing, landscaping barriers, and signage. The largest reduction in the number of trespasses was found for fencing (94.6%), followed by landscaping (91.3%). Signage reduced trespassing by 30%, but the study concluded that this drop would be temporary unless law enforcement strictly enforced the signage. In short, physical barriers like fencing are highly effective in reducing rights-of-way casualties.

Similarly, the FRA tracked trespassing along the Florida East Coast Railway, finding that trespassing was an “epidemic,” and recommended fencing as a part of the trespassing mitigation strategy. An East Coast railroad reported that installing fencing to channel pedestrians to safe crossings was highly effective in reducing trespassing casualties.

The rail industry clearly views pedestrian casualties on railroad rights-of-way as their deadliest problem. Equally clear, the railroad industry and the FRA regard fencing as an effective and important tool in preventing right-of-way casualties. Despite this, most railroads have refused to incorporate any of these recommended practices.

Today, the leading rail-related type of death in the United States is pedestrians killed on railroad rights-of-way. While crossing accidents have long highlighted the need for safety improvements, more pedestrians are killed in non-crossing accidents than are in motor-vehicle crossing accidents. Nationally, more than 500 pedestrian fatalities occur each year, and nearly as many are injured. Although far less publicized, more pedestrians are killed on railroad tracks than are killed in crossing accidents. The majority of these are preventable.

Contact the skilled, experienced attorneys of Bolt Hoffer Boyd Law Firm if you or a family member have been involved in a pedestrian train accident.


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