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Report looks at ways to stop trespassing on railroads
railroads safety report
An 80-year-old man died in January after being struck by a train in Denair (Photo contributed).

The U.S Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration is hoping to derail the number of people trespassing on railways and in turn drive down the resulting fatalities and injuries.

The FRA submitted their report, “National Strategy to Prevent Trespassing on Railroad Property,” to Congress on Tuesday. The report outlines the significance of the problem and lays out a set of strategies to mitigate it.

“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.” 

In the report, the FRA examined trespasser casualties over a four-year period, from November 2013 to October 2017 and identified the top 10 counties in the United States where the most pedestrian trespasser casualties occurred (Los Angeles, Calif.; Cook (Chicago), Ill.; San Bernardino, Calif.; Harris (Houston), Texas; Broward, Fla.; Palm Beach, Fla.; Fresno, Calif.; Riverside, Calif.; Contra Costa, Calif.; San Diego, Calif.). 

While the efforts will be focused on the identified hot spots, it could eventually help an area like Turlock, which has seen a number of train fatalities and injuries over the years. In 2018, the Turlock and Denair area had two fatalities and one injury from three train collisions. In January an elderly man in Denair was killed when he stepped into the path of an oncoming freight train.

The report shows that, excluding suicides, 4,242 pedestrians were killed or injured while trespassing on railroad property nationwide during this time period. 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. In calendar year 2018, 324 pedestrian trespass fatalities had occurred by July 31, 2018, according to the FRA. Moreover, 74 percent of all trespasser deaths and injuries in that four-year period occurred within 1,000 feet of a grade crossing.

Trespassing on railroad property extends further than walking on the railroad tracks. A railroad right of way refers to the land on either side of a railroad track. It is private property that is owned by railroad companies and usually extends 25 to 50 feet on either side of the track. Anyone in that area without the railroad’s permission is considered a trespasser.

In October 2017, the FRA formed a team of experts to study the problem of people being killed or injured while trespassing on railroad property. The FRA’s past efforts to address the problem of people trespassing on railroad property have focused on outreach to the public, railroads, and law enforcement agencies. The report found that the FRA needs to do more than educate and facilitate mitigation measures when issues arise. They hope to do that by focusing on four strategic areas: data gathering and analysis; community site visits; funding; and partnerships with stakeholders.