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Friday, March 15, 2013    

LaHood: Crossing, trespassing fatalities are vexing rail safety issues


By virtually every statistical measurement, 2012 was the safest year on record for the U.S. rail industry, with the accident rate per million train miles down 19 percent and grade crossing collision rate down 8 percent. But crossing fatalities and trespassing remain key rail safety challenges, wrote U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood yesterday in his "Fast Lane" blog.

"Although the number of rail-highway grade crossing incidents has dropped significantly — down by 54 percent over the last two decades — we're still seeing more than 200 deaths a year. Every day, trains travel across more than 212,000 highway-rail grade crossings," LaHood wrote.

In addition, the "one notable exception" to continuous improvement in rail safety is trespassing, which is "one of the most vexing safety issues that the industry faces," he said.

The Federal Railroad Administration is trying to prevent trespassing through public education efforts and further reduce the number of crossing incidents by ensuring that equipment is functioning effectively and by educating the public about crossing risks. Moreover, Association of American Railroads members have improved the safety of their operations and Operation Lifesaver Inc. has helped promote awareness via a public information program dedicated to reducing collisions, injuries and fatalities at crossings and on rail rights of way, LaHood wrote.

But despite those efforts, the number of deaths and injuries from trespassing increased in 2012 because "some people still choose to trespass and take dangerous shortcuts," he said.

"2012 was indeed a good year for overall rail safety, but as in all the safety areas DOT covers, we can do better, and we will," LaHood wrote.

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