Incidence of California Train Accidents Remains High Despite Prevention Measures
A recent California railroad accident draws attention to the dangers inherent in trespassing on railroads. Lawmakers attempt to prevent accidents involving pedestrians and trains, but this recent case shows their efforts may not be enough, explains personal injury lawyer James Ballidis.
In September 2012, 17-year-old Victoria Cadez of Seal Beach, California was struck and killed by an Amtrak train. The accident occurred near where the railroad crosses underneath the 91 Freeway. Cadez and her friends were believed to have been sitting on the tracks near the overpass. They apparently attempted to get out of the way when they saw the train coming, but Cadez was held up when reaching for her purse and was unable to get out of the way in time.
Cadez is not the first to have been injured as a result of being on train tracks at a time when she shouldn’t have been. In fact, according to the Federal Railroad Safety Administration Office of Safety Analysis, 94.82 percent of all fatalities in highway-rail incidents in 2011 occurred as a result of trespassing. Highway-rail incidents involve any situation where a rail and a highway user collide at a crossing site, including incidents with other vehicles as well as pedestrians. Further, the FRSA statistics also indicate that 55.48 percent of all railway accidents occur on yard tracks and that 409 trespassers were killed in “other train incidents” (with “other” train accidents defined as any events causing death, injuries or illnesses to railroad employees).
California, in particular, is an area where train fatalities are a grave concern. California had the most pedestrian/trespasser fatalities of any state in both 2009 and 2010; 62 people died in 2010 in accidents involving pedestrians and trains.
Train tracks are dangerous places since trains are not able to stop short in order to prevent a deadly collision. As such, both California lawmakers and railroad companies have taken steps to try to do everything possible to prevent train accidents.
California, for instance, has passed Penal Code Section 369i, which makes it a misdemeanor crime to trespass on the property of railroads. In some parts of California, fines can total as much as $2,000 to $6,000 for trespassing.
In addition to the legal sanctions, every effort is made to educate the public about railroad dangers. For instance, railroads are clearly marked with no trespassing signs, which are generally located every one-to-three miles along tracks. Designated crossing zones are also clearly marked so that people know where they are permitted to cross.
Local, national and international organizations also exist to try to help encourage safety. For example, Operation Lifesaver, a Rail Safety Education Program, organizes an International Level Crossing Awareness Day. Passengers are also provided with an 800 number to call in California, 1.877.SAF.RAIL, to report unsafe behavior or problems that they witness on or near railroad tracks.
Despite all of these attempts by lawmakers and railroad companies to try to encourage safety, fatal train accidents still happen throughout the state.
Unfortunately, there are many factors contributing to these accidents. One is that people may be unaware of the misdemeanor laws and strict penalties for trespassing on railroads. While signs indicate that trespassing is a crime, people may ignore these signs if law enforcement has not actively enforced the laws or if using the tracks illegally has become customary. Further, some express concern that many signs are written in English only in certain areas and should be written in Spanish as well. There is also a risk associated with people vandalizing or taking down signs warning of railroad tracks or signaling designated crossing areas.
As long as people continue to trespass and to underestimate the dangers associated with railways, fatalities are likely to continue. Law enforcement and railroads have little option but to try to continue public awareness campaigns and to be more diligent in enforcing laws and issuing tickets to trespassers.
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