Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

St. Louis Post-Dispatch series on rail pedestrian safety

From "Hundreds Die Walking the Tracks Each Year":

Railroad companies across the country at times refuse to take even small steps to deal with the problem of people walking on their tracks, a Post-Dispatch investigation found, based on more than 90 interviews and a review of thousands of pages of regulatory filings, court documents and industry publications. Some railroads defend their right to run trains with little concern for what may lie ahead. And for regulators, these types of accidents largely fall into a blind spot.

The result is that pedestrian railroad accidents are now the leading cause of death on the rails. More than 7,200 pedestrians have been fatally struck by trains in the United States since 1997. An additional 6,400 have been injured. Each year on average about 500 are killed. In the first nine months of 2012, the number of pedestrian railroad deaths jumped 10 percent, while the number of all other railroad fatalities fell.

Even more startling: Based on the miles driven each year, pedestrians are killed by freight and passenger trains at many times the rate they are killed by motor vehicles.

Despite this, railroads have objected to efforts by regulators to learn more about the collisions. They have admitted to ignoring obvious signs of people walking on their rails. They have at times failed to brake or even slow down significantly when they do spot people in a train’s path. At the same time, they take credit for safety education efforts that have seen funding and staffing slashed.

Other articles in the series:

-- "Railroads Have Fought Efforts to Identify Problem Spots for Pedestrians"
-- "Operation Lifesaver Shrinks as Danger Grows"

National railroad safety initiatives. Because of the terrible crash between a Union Pacific freight train and  the Metrolink commuter railroad train in Chatsworth, California, which killed 25 people, Congress passed legislation requiring "Positive Train Control," a safety system that regulators had been pressing railroads to install for decades.  The deadline for implementation is 2015, although this deadline is likely to be extended.

Metrolink is now a national leader in commitment to implementation of safety technologies.  On Metrolink's innovations page, they list five technologies: Positive Train Control; Crash Energy Management Technology; Inward and Outward-facing Video Cameras; Automatic Train Stop (ATS) Technology; and Grade Crossing Safety.

Urban design measures.  Part of the problem can be lack of convenient access to places that is hindered because of railroad tracks being "in the way", without bridges, tunnels or otherwise easier access. This is definitely a problem near transit stations.

For example, in DC, lack of convenient access from one area near the Rhode Island Avenue Metro Station means that people used to (the fence now is much better) used to cross the railroad tracks to get to the station. At least in that area, trains do not go very fast. Now there is a project to build a pedestrian and bicycle bridge across the tracks ("DDOT Announces Solicitation of Bids for Construction of Rhode Island Avenue Pedestrian Bridge," DDOT press release).

In the Middle River area of Baltimore County, Amtrak's Northeast Corridor tracks slice through the neighborhood, with limited crossing opportunities.  In 2010, a teen late for school cut across the tracks and was hit and killed by an Amtrak train.  See "Residents want new fence where girl killed by train" and "Amtrak to install heavy-duty fence at Middle River" from the Baltimore Sun.

Note that Metrolink in Southern California does have a campaign about crossing and playing on railroad tracks, targeting youth in junior and senior high schools. It's won awards.

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At 9:57 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

when I lived in DC Takoma I had a neighbor who had a prosthetic leg- he had been electrocuted crossing the rail tracks over in Anacostia as a teenager and this gave him constant is certaibly a big deal and an ignored problem

At 11:48 AM, Anonymous thm said...

The author seems to be implying that railroad speed limits ought to be lower around residential neighborhoods or schools, and I'm more than a little bit leery of that. The focus should be keeping people off the tracks, perhaps unless speed limits are really used as a way to compel railroads to erect fences and so forth. As a rule, the railroad was there first; blame should go to the planners who sited a school near the tracks and included residents on the other side of the tracks in the attendance zone. And why was a developer allowed up build a residential subdivision near a railroad without putting up any fencing? The whole article seems written from a premise that trains are really just like cars but with steel wheels.

I also don't know about that per-mile-driven statistic. Is that by train-mile or ton-mile? There are still more overall ton-miles hauled by railroads than by trucks, and at less than 500 pedestrian deaths from trains per year, and less than 400 if you take out suicides, I doubt the figure is lower for motor vehicles.


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