As a lifelong railroader, I’m especially pleased to join Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI) and others across the nation in observing Rail Safety Week (RSW). In addition to Canada, this year we also welcome our colleagues in Mexico in helping all of us in North America to raise the profile of rail safety awareness.
Deaths resulting from trespassing and highway-rail grade crossing collisions account for 95% of all rail-related fatalities in America. About every 3-4 hours, a pedestrian or vehicle is struck by a train.
In 2019, 299 individuals died during grade crossing collisions and 571 needlessly lost their lives while trespassing on train tracks.
These numbers do not tell the full story.
It is when you know someone who is counted in those statistics, or almost become one yourself—that you truly understand the gravity of the issue. Having almost been one of those casualties myself as a lifelong railroader, I still carry the tragic memory of a family friend I lost on the tracks.
With the memories of those lost in mind, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) wants to enlist you as individuals, communities, states, law enforcement and railroads to acknowledge that the data is skewing in the wrong direction, and to rededicate yourselves to identify and implement effective and sustainable strategies to reverse this trend and to help bring those numbers to zero.
This year, RSW coincides with the FRA announcing more than $320 million in 2020 Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements (CRISI) Program grants to 50 projects in 29 states.
Among them are a wide variety of targeted capital investments that improve the safety, efficiency and reliability of freight and intercity passenger service. The carefully selected projects reflect the Administration’s emphasis on promoting safety first, while simultaneously fostering freight and passenger mobility and connectivity, and economic development. Nine of those projects in nine states, totaling $38.5 million, are primarily focused on highway-rail grade crossing safety and trespass prevention because helping Americans be safe at crossings and along railroad rights-of-way is necessary.
The fact is, despite long-term progress, the frequency of fatal and injurious highway-rail grade crossing collisions and trespass incidents is unacceptable.
With a 99% implementation rate, transformative new technology, such as Positive Train Control (PTC), will help make the already safe movement of trains even safer.
As a proponent of safety first as an operating mission and a commitment to innovation, Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, FRA and our colleagues at the Federal Highway Administration, and Federal Transit Administration are proud of our longstanding association with OLI. That commitment is bolstered by numerous allied stakeholder organizations, whose dedication and collaboration with railroads, local and state agencies is fundamental to addressing the persistent problem of preventable grade crossing and trespass incidents. Partnerships among and between all these entities continues to raise public awareness for drivers and pedestrians alike, to be vigilant and cautious near railroad tracks and crossings.
It’s my hope and expectation that this confluence of RSW and our CRISI grant selections will underscore the need for continued joint efforts on education, enforcement and engineering, the multi-faceted approach that has made previous gains possible.