Taking Aim at Rail Trespasser Casualties

More people are struck and killed by trains each year while trespassing than in motor vehicle collisions with trains at highway-rail grade crossings.

Several numbers jumped out at me when I scanned the Federal Railroad Administration's first "National Strategy to Prevent Trespassing on Railroad Property," a February 2019 report on factors that contribute to trespassing incidents on railroad property. It was prepared in response to a U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee request.

FRA assembled a team of experts on the problem in October 2017. They analyzed the costs to railroads and society and found that trespass accidents during the five-year period from 2012 to 2016 cost society approximately $43 billion. The team found that 74 percent of all trespasser deaths and injuries during that four-year period occurred within 1,000 feet of a grade crossing. Even when railroad trespass violations are reported to law enforcement, the violations are rarely prosecuted, they reported—law enforcement focuses its resources on higher-priority issues, such as homicides, illegal drugs, and highway crashes. FRA pointed out that community-planning decisions (such as the location of bus stops in relation to safe crossing paths) may lead to trespassing.

FRA examined trespasser casualties from November 2013 to October 2017 and identified the 10 counties where the most pedestrian trespasser casualties occurred. They're located in just four states: Los Angeles, Calif.; Cook County, Ill.; San Bernardino, Calif.; Harris County, Texas; Broward, Fla.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Fresno, Calif.; Riverside, Calif.; Contra Costa, Calif.; and San Diego, Calif. Excluding suicides, 4,242 pedestrians were killed or injured while trespassing on railroad property nationwide during that time period.

More people are struck and killed by trains each year while trespassing than in motor vehicle collisions with trains at highway-rail grade crossings. Between 2012 and 2017, the annual number of trespass-related pedestrian fatalities increased 18 percent, from 725 people killed in 2012 to 855 in 2017.

"Almost every trespasser death or injury is preventable, and FRA is working to intensify our efforts," said FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory. "Now that we have examined current data on contributing factors of the problem, we are seeking to energize our state and local partners to implement solutions and save lives."

This article originally appeared in the April 2019 issue of Occupational Health & Safety.

About the Author

Jerry Laws is Editor of Occupational Health & Safety magazine, which is owned by 1105 Media Inc.

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