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RAILS-WITH-TRAILS
Railroad Fatality Data
According to data collected by the FRA Office of Safety
Analysis,
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there have been between 667 and 1,516 fatalities on
railroad corridors each year since 1975, including 704 in 2012.
These numbers include people who cross tracks by foot or in
vehicles, some of whom are intoxicated or suicidal, as well as
those who use tracks to walk to a destination.
However, out of the tens of thousands of fatalities that have
occurred on railroad corridors since we began our study
in 1992, as of September 2013, we have learned of only one
involving a trail user on a rail-with-trail. This data suggests that
well-designed rail-with-trail facilities can reduce fatalities by
providing safer ways to traverse the corridor, and to cross tracks
where necessary.
This above-mentioned fatality involving a rail-with-trail facility
occurred on the South Bay Trail in Bellingham, Wash. In this
instance, the cyclist did not slow or attempt to stop at a 90-degree
track crossing, which included a railroad warning sign, a ‘cross-
buck’ symbolic sign, and a stop sign.
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While a lawsuit was filed
against the railroad and the trail manager, neither was found to
be liable, and the court specifically noted that the trail crossing
had in fact improved safety for pedestrians and cyclists.
Although management of the South Bay Trail did not take
part in RTC’s trail manager survey for this report, due to the
singular relevance of this fatality RTC staff researched legal and
media reports of the incident to present a clear understanding
of what occurred.
More information about the liability findings of that case is
included in the Liability section on the following page.
That our research found only one fatality on a rail-with-trail
over a 20-year period testifies to the safety benefit of well-
designed bike and pedestrian pathways to guide the movement
of people alongside and across rail corridors.
Gross figures on the number of railroad fatalities are best
understood in the context of the baseline level of risk—the
amount of train movement. The table opposite presents rail
deaths (both trespasser and non-trespasser) per 100 million
miles of train travel for the last 15 years.
Rail deaths per 100 million miles of train travel declined ap-
proximately 20 percent in the last 15 years, and have fallen
significantly from the peak of 1,516 in 1976. The trend may
suggest that interventions like rail-with-trail accommodations
America’s Rails-with-Trails
Year
Rail Deaths per
100
Million Miles of Train Travel
1998
142.04
1999
122.82
2000
125.19
2001
132.39
2002
125.30
2003
112.60
2004
111.54
2005
106.21
2006
107.92
2007
103.83
2008
96.76
2009
100.76
2010
100.74
2011
92.91
2012
113.35
and improved crossing infrastructure are having a positive
safety impact.
The contribution of rails-with-trails in making rail corridors
safer places for people to travel along or across has particular
relevance to the need to provide more equitable transportation
options. Many transportation investments have historically
created barriers to some neighborhoods being able to access
employment centers, services and other destinations. Rail-with-
trail presents a unique solution to the challenge of keeping
people safe while also making optimal use of railroad corridors
to accommodate the mobility needs of all residents. Squeezing
maximal utility out of limited space is especially pressing in
congested urban areas.
Rails-with-trails have an exemplary safety
record, with only one trail user fatality
recorded since 1992.