Study: Pa. has 4th highest number of railroad trespass deaths

SEPTA train
Rikard Larma/Metro. Better get out of the way!

Pennsylvania ranks fourth in the nation when it comes to the number of railroad trespasser fatalities and third in terms of trespasser injuries, according to a report released yesterday by rail safety nonprofit Operation Lifesaver of Pennsylvania.

“We’re number four – that’s a sad commentary,” director Don Lubinsky said yesterday.

“We just have a lot of people who don’t understand it takes quite a long time for a train to stop. You have 10,000 tons going 50 miles per hour – it takes over a mile and a half to stop.”

The number of injuries sustained by trespassers on Pennsylvania railroad tracks and properties rose a staggering 23.5 percent last year, while trespasser deaths increased 21.7 percent during the same time. In contrast, collisions at highway-grade rail crossings fell.

“Part of the reason pedestrian trespass casualties are on the increase is people have been moving into areas that are adjacent to railroad tracks and they were never adjacent to railroad tracks before,” Lubinsky said.

SEPTA director of system safety and risk management Scott Sauer said he’s noticed a similar trend in Philadelphia.

“In recent years, we have seen trespass incidents going up on our side as well, with people being struck by on-track equipment – pedestrians, more or less, walking on the railroad,” Sauer said.

He said he doesn’t know what to blame for the uptick, but did note that about 50 percent of SEPTA trespasser deaths are suicides.

“All in all, walking on railroad property and the romance of railroads has been around as long as we’ve had railroads,” Sauer said.

“You see stuff in newspapers – people having their wedding photos taken on train tracks, people having their class photos taken on train tracks – I shudder to think how bad that could turn out if they’re taking it at the wrong time.”

SEPTA and Operation Lifesaver have partnered to offer numerous rider safety education outreach efforts like instructional programs at schools and community centers.

“It’s a very simple process,” Lubinsky said. “It’s not as if a train jumps out of the bushes and gets you – it’s big, it’s bad, it makes lots of noise and you just have to be aware if you’re on a track when a train is coming, you’re going to get hit.”

By the numbers

>> 28 railroad trespassers were killed in Pennsylvania last year, a 21.7% increase from the year before.

>> 21 railroad trespassers were injured in the state last year, a 23.5% increase from 2011.

>> Collisions at highway-grade crossings fell 4.8% in the state last year, reaching 60 during 2012.

>> Only 4 people were killed last year at highway-grade rail crossings.


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