Each year, hundreds of Americans are seriously injured or killed by locomotives when they intentionally or accidentally wander onto tracks or drive into the path of oncoming trains. While much has been done in the last two decades to mitigate these fatalities, it is clear more must be done to ensure rail grade crossing and pedestrian safety remains a priority.
Transportation labor applauds the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) for convening an important discussion earlier this week at the Trespasser & Grade Crossing Fatality Prevention Summit. This event brought together frontline workers, rail carriers, safety advocates, government agencies and other stakeholders to examine ways to prevent future tragedies.
Among those to address the summit was locomotive engineer and SMART – Transportation Division union member Tom Cahill. Cahill has been a rail worker for the past 24 years and gave moving testimony about the need for improved safety at our nation’s rail crossings.
According to FRA data, trespassing along railroad rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in the United States. Collisions between locomotives and automobiles at railroad crossings are the second leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Most of these deaths are preventable.
Increased funding for safety initiatives, better public education, more fencing near tracks, and more four-quadrant gates at rail crossings are just some measures that can and should be taken to prevent drivers and pedestrians from being hit by trains. And, as Cahill pointed out, these tragedies also remind us why two qualified crewmembers — a conductor and engineer — are needed on every freight train.
“Conductors and engineers work together to safely get trains to their destinations, and during an emergency, such as a grade crossing collision, our teamwork is critical,” Cahill said.
In emergency situations, these frontline rail workers often double as first responders, provide critical information to local law enforcement and emergency personnel, and work together to uncouple train cars that may be blocking roads or the paths of emergency vehicles.
Transportation labor is dedicated to improving rail safety and proud to be part of grade crossing and pedestrian safety initiatives. By coming together with rail unions, safety advocates, community organizations, and government agencies to find common-sense solutions to this problem, we can and will save lives.