Urban Fold

Why is Little Being Done to Prevent Railroad Deaths?

An investigative series by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch exposes the obstacles to preventing pedestrian railroad accidents - now the leading cause of death on the rails. Authorities are unable to tackle the problem and railroads are unwilling.

In a multi-part series, Todd C. Frankel reports on the epidemic of railroad accidents caused by people walking on, along, or across railroad tracks, and why actions aren't being taken to curtail the hundreds of such deaths that occur each year. "[P]edestrian railroad accidents are now the leading cause of death on the rails," notes Frankel. "More than 7,200 pedestrians have been fatally struck by trains in the United States since 1997. An additional 6,400 have been injured. Each year on average about 500 are killed...Even more startling: Based on the miles driven each year, pedestrians are killed by freight and passenger trains at many times the rate they are killed by motor vehicles."

Even more surprising than these statistics, however, may be the inability of officials, and disinterest of railroad companies, to help solve the problem, says Frankel. "Railroad companies across the country at times refuse to take even small steps to deal with the problem of people walking on their tracks, a Post-Dispatch investigation found, based on more than 90 interviews and a review of thousands of pages of regulatory filings, court documents and industry publications. Some railroads defend their right to run trains with little concern for what may lie ahead. And for regulators, these types of accidents largely fall into a blind spot."

"Keeping people off the tracks is difficult, said David Clarke, director of the University of Tennessee’s Transportation Research Center, who has served as an expert witness in railroad accident cases."

“But honestly, the railroads don’t seem to make a whole lot of effort to do it,” Clarke said.

Hat tip to Daniel Lippman.

Full Story: Hundreds die walking the tracks each year


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