Pedestrian Train Accidents

Because railroad tracks often cut neighborhoods and cities in half, those killed and injured most often are pedestrians walking across or along railroad tracks as a shortcut. Good pedestrian railroad attorneys know that railroad companies quick to paint these pedestrians and ordinary people as “trespassers” in hopes of vilifying them. In truth, the relationship between pedestrians and railroad tracks is highly common and complicated, as recognized by the FRA and industry leaders. In reality, many people are faced with either walking miles out of their way to get to work or school to cross at designated vehicular crossings or they can use pathways that others have been using for years and miles and hours off of their weekly commutes. Many pedestrians are engaged in recreational activities such as walking, jogging, bicycling, walking a dog, hunting, fishing, snowmobiling, or operating off-road, all-terrain vehicles. Wheelchairs can get stuck on poorly maintained railroad crossings. Children are also naturally drawn to railroad tracks and trains. The lack of safety measures and system safety plans and the inherent curiosity of children, can make for a tragic combination.

Beyond statistics, railroads are well aware that its rights-of-way are a dangerous place for pedestrians. To address the nation-wide safety concerns posed by railroad rights-of-way, the Federal Railroad Administration (“FRA”) organized three industry wide workshops. The presentations to these workshops can be accessed by clicking on their respective years: 2008, 2012, and 2015 (collectively “the Workshops”).

The stated purpose of the Workshops was “to identify and recommend new and existing strategies that the rail industry could pursue to assist in reducing the number of pedestrian and trespasser casualties. Major freight and passenger railroads were represented, including delegates from BNSF, Union Pacific, CSX, Norfolk Southern, as well as many other regional and local freight and passenger railroads such as the Florida East Coast Railway and Caltrains. The Workshops discussed the industry standards and recommend practices concerning fencing:

  • Recommendations of the 2012 Workshop: The FRA issued a summary of the recommended best practices to abate right-of-way casualties. This included recommendations from the “Design, Technology, & Infrastructure Group,” the group responsible for engineering solutions such as fencing. The number one recommendation from the group to prevent casualties was fencing. The group stated “there is a real need to seal our corridors [rights of way] and we need a more robust style of fencing.” They also concluded that the industry needs “to find a way to keep up with chain-link fencing repairs,” which indicates that the industry is using chain-link fencing to prevent trespass. They also stated that bulk buy would make it more cost-effective to use fencing to mitigate intrusion onto rights-of-way.
  • FRA Trespass Prevention Research Study: Study of trespass activity and mitigation for particular urban site in West Palm Beach, Florida. Presented a methodology for assessing trespassing clusters (based on seriousness and frequency of activity) and the methods for mitigating those problems. Fencing and “channeling” pedestrians is promoted as a mitigation technique. BNSF follows neither strategy.
    Line chart depicting U.S. Trespass and Crossing Fatalities by Year
  • CPUC Rail and Transit Hazard Management Program: Identifies that (1) trespassers will take most direct route; (2) barriers such as fencing need to be utilized; and (3) safety must not be compromised for aesthetics or convenience.
  • Hazardous Assessment Approach to Trespass Management — High Security Fence: Discusses a basic method for prioritizing fencing projects so that they will be most effective. Based primarily on number of trespass reports, previous accidents, and debris strikes. Fencing should be placed to abate trespass.

Industry research shows that fencing and other economical engineering solutions are a highly effective deterrent. The journal of Accident Analysis and Prevention conducted a study in Finland to track countermeasures to right-of-way trespass. The study measured the impact of three trespass mitigation strategies at highly trespassed areas, namely fencing, landscaping barriers, and signage. The largest reduction in the number of trespasses was found for fencing (94.6%), followed by landscaping (91.3%). Signage reduced trespassing by 30%, but the study concluded that this drop would be temporary unless law enforcement strictly enforced the signage. In short, physical barriers like fencing are highly effective in reducing rights-of-way casualties.

Similarly, the FRA tracked trespassing along the Florida East Coast Railway, finding that trespassing was an “epidemic” and recommended fencing as a part of the trespassing mitigation strategy. An east-coast railroad reported to the Workshops that installing fencing to channel pedestrians to safe crossings was highly effective in reducing trespassing casualties.

The rail industry clearly views pedestrian casualties on railroad rights-of-way as the deadliest problem in the railroad industry. Equally clear, the railroad industry and the FRA view fencing as an effective and important tool in preventing right-of-way casualties. Despite this, most railroads have refused to incorporate any of these recommended practices, despite having several delegates at the Workshops and representing that they do adhere to the recommend actions.

Today, pedestrians being killed on railroad rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. While crossing accidents have long highlighted the need for safety improvements, more pedestrians are killed in non-crossing accidents than are in motor-vehicle crossing accidents. Nationally, more than 500 pedestrian fatalities occur each year, and nearly as many are injured. Although far less publicized, more pedestrian are killed on railroad tracks than are killed in crossing accidents. The vast majority of these are preventable.

Bolt Hoffer Boyd Law Firm has experienced train lawyers with the skills and drive necessary to fight against railroads, protect your rights, and prove that your railroad injury was caused by a negligent railroad carrier. Because no two cases are alike, we specifically tailor our legal representation to give each and every client specialized legal to the specific facts of their claim and will not stop until justice is achieved. We are 100% dedicated to every client we take on, no matter how big or small the case. We handle each case with care and commitment to getting you the compensation you need to get back to life as you know it. Contact us at Bolt Hoffer Boyd Law Firm to schedule an initial consultation with one of our railroad lawyers today.