2009: A Record Low Number of Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Collision Deaths

WASHINGTON — Newly released federal statistics indicate 2009 had a record low number of deaths and injuries from highway-rail grade crossing collisions.

For the first time ever, the number of crossing collisions fell below 2,000 to 1,880, a 21.9 percent drop from 2008. Decreases were also recorded in both vehicular and freight train traffic, which may have contributed to crossing safety gains, according to Operation Lifesaver.

“As rail safety advocates, we are encouraged to see double-digit drops in the number of highway-rail grade crossing collisions, deaths and injuries, as well as pedestrian rail trespass injuries,” Operation Lifesaver President Helen M. Sramek said in a news release. “These new figures show law enforcement efforts, improvements in highway-rail engineering and signal technology, closure of unnecessary crossings, and Operation Lifesaver’s partnership efforts with state, federal and local agencies to raise rail safety awareness are helping to make our communities safer.”

Rail property trespass incidents, often resulting in injuries and fatalities, continue to pose a challenge. Though trespass numbers declined, they did not achieve the record low marks set by crossing incidents, Sramek notes. Trespass injuries dropped from 429 in 2008 to 338 in 2009 and deaths fell in 2009 to 434 from 458 one year earlier.

Twenty states — including California, Pennsylvania, Ohio, New Jersey, New York, Washington, Indiana, Louisiana and Missouri — saw increases in deaths resulting from trespass incidents; trespass injuries rose in 9 states.

“Few people realize that in this country, a person or a vehicle is hit by a train about every three hours,” Sramek said. “Although the FRA numbers indicate a 5.2 percent drop in trespassing fatalities in 2009, it’s important to remember that trespassers still account for the largest number of rail-related fatalities in the United States. The good news is that trespassing incidents are preventable; we need to successfully educate people to stay off the tracks, understand and obey crossing laws, and use common sense around trains.”