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Railroad Accidents in Alabama, U.S., Increasing

Apr 19, 2014 - Train Accidents by

Railroad accidents throughout the country are on the rise – and Alabama has one of the highest railroad fatality rates in the nation.traintracks2

Our accident lawyers in Birmingham note just last year there were 85 vehicle collisions and 19 pedestrians deaths involving trains. Alabama ranked in the top 15 for overall railroad fatalities, according to records from the Federal Railroad Administration.

In fact, Alabama media outlets in January reported numerous train accidents throughout the state in a single week. On railroad tracks on Alabaster Road in Jefferson County, a man fell asleep and was struck and killed by a freight train. That incident followed a crash in which four people in a van died in Chilton County after they tried to cross a set of tracks near Thorsby. Four others inside were seriously injured. There had been no traffic barriers at the crossing. In Tuscaloosa, three deaths were reported in January due to train and car crashes. Two other incidents were reported in Bessemer, though there were thankfully no fatalities.

Then last month a man in Montgomery was killed trying to cross the tracks in his car.

While railroad companies are touting the fact that 2012 was reportedly one of the safest on record, with derailments and crossing accidents down, the number of national trespassing deaths was up 11 percent, from 429 to 476. Deaths caused by train/car accidents rose by almost 8 percent, up to 250.

Authorities say it isn’t clear exactly what is causing the spike in deaths, but they suspect it may have something to do with increased distractions. Specifically, people are too wrapped up in their smartphones and other electronic devices to notice when they are approaching train tracks, especially if they aren’t clearly marked. Even those not in vehicles are at risk.

This has sparked an idea for a new ad campaign called, “See Tracks? Think Train.” It features a youth walking on railroad tracks with headphones, failing to realize that a train is fast approaching.

Sometimes, trespassing pedestrian railroad deaths fluctuate depending on things like how much construction is occurring near train tracks or whether there has been an increase in vehicle or pedestrian traffic overall in the area.

Another problem is that people are too often in a hurry. They want to beat the train because they don’t want to be stuck waiting for it to pass for the next three to five minutes. The problem, say authorities, is that there is no guarantee that a driver will be able to beat that train safely.

It takes well over a mile for a conductor to be able to stop a train moving at 55 miles-per-hour. Often, by the time the conductor sees someone or something on the tracks ahead, it’s too late to stop, even if the emergency brakes are applied.

Drivers should keep in mind the following when approaching tracks:

  • Don’t ever try to race a train to the crossing. If a train is coming, wait for it to pass before traveling over the tracks.
  • Never drive around gates that are lowered. If a signal is out, call the 1-800 number that is posted on the cross signal or contact local law enforcement.
  • Go through a highway-rail grade crossing only if you are positive you can totally clear it without stopping. Keep in mind that the train is going to be three feet wider on either side than the tracks.
  • If you are stalled on tracks and a train is coming, get out of the vehicle immediately and get far away from the tracks, going in the opposite direction. If you run in the same direction as the train’s trajectory, there’s a chance you could be hurt by the debris that flies when it hits the car.
  • Always expect a train. Freight trains don’t always travel according to strict schedules.

Additional Resources:

Railroads stress safety after deaths up in 2013, April 8, 2014, By Josh Funk, Associated Press
See Tracks? Think Train!, April 11, 2014, By Rebecca Burylo, Montgomery Advertiser

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