Stay off the tracks: Pedestrian-railway accidents soar 35% in the past five years

Photographer walking down the tracks in the country
Railroads are private property. People on the tracks for whatever purpose are considered trespassers. According to the U.S. Department of Transportion it "is illegal to access private railroad property anywhere other than a designated pedestrian or roadway crossing. Trespassers are most often pedestrians who walk across or along railroad tracks as a shortcut to another destination. Some trespassers are loitering; engaged in recreational activities such as jogging, taking pictures, hunting, fishing, bicycling or operating recreational off-highway vehicles (ROVs)."
Photo: Redd F/Unsplash

by Mark Richardson
Illinois News Connection

There has been a 35% increase nationwide in the number of trespassing collisions on railroads.
CHICAGO - Illinois ranks third in the nation for collisions at railroad crossings, and safety experts urged pedestrians and motorists to follow some basic rules to avoid tragedy.

Data from Operation Lifesaver showed overall, the incidents are much less common than they used to be but the number in Illinois is growing.

Buck Russel, manager of public safety for Union Pacific Railroad, said since 2018, there has been a 35% increase nationwide in the number of trespassing collisions on railroads. He explained railroads are private property, so people on the tracks are considered trespassers, not pedestrians.

"It's not a place to take wedding pictures, graduation pictures, record albums," Russel stressed. "They have that nostalgia feeling, the train tracks; you know, they continue on forever into the sunset. But when you get on the train tracks, you're exhibiting those bad behaviors that our little ones are going to pick up on."

Interstate Commerce Commission statistics for 2021 indicate Illinois had 124 collisions between trains and motor vehicles or pedestrians at highway-rail crossings. Twenty-one people were killed and another 30 seriously injured. The state ranks fifth for trespassing casualties.

Illinois has more than 7,300 miles of track, with 7,500 public and almost 4,000 private rail crossings. Russel noted a recent report by the Safe Kids Worldwide campaign found a majority of parents do not realize the importance of addressing railroad safety, despite the statistics. Whether it is a railroad crossing or a collision on the tracks, he said nearly all incidents are preventable.

"Approximately every three hours, either a person or a vehicle is struck in the United States," Russel pointed out. "I know personally, when I pass it on to my family members, they're just like, 'There is just no way it can be every three hours.' And it, unfortunately, really does come down to that."

Russel said most of the collision incidents take place between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. Last month, the Biden administration announced it has allocated more than more than $1.4 billion to improve railway safety.


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