National FRA statistics indicate that there were 2,004 vehicle-train collisions in the U.S. last year, up 4.2 percent from the 1,924 incidents in 2009. Because of those 2,004 collisions, 260 deaths and 810 injuries were reported. This also was up from 2009’s 247 deaths and 738 injuries.
Louisiana was among the top five crossing collisions, only being outdone by Texas, Illinois, California and Indiana last year.
Its numbers in the death and injuries categories rank worst. While Louisiana is ranked fifth nationally in collisions, it now ranks fourth in fatalities and third in injuries. In Louisiana, crossing collisions rose from 84 in 2009 to 106 in 2010; fatalities rose from 11 in 2009 to 13 in 2010; and injuries rose from 36 in 2009 to 65 in 2010.
“The statistics show that as America pulls out of the recession and people are driving more, we need to redouble our efforts to educate the public about taking unnecessary risks at highway-rail crossings, because any incident is one too many,” said OLI President Helen Sramek.
U.S. Department of Transportation figures also show that vehicle miles traveled in 2010 (2,999,634 according to the Federal Highway Administration) were the third-highest ever, Sramek noted. “With more people traveling on our roadways, there’s a greater chance for an incident to occur,” Sramek said.
“The FRA data for Louisiana from 2007-2010 indicates that 41.6 percent of vehicle-train collisions involved automobiles, with truck-trailers noted at 19.5 percent, and pick-up trucks at 18.1 percent,” said Pat Edwards, state coordinator of Louisiana Operation Lifesaver. The top five parishes in Louisiana for vehicle-train incidents during this time period, comprising 27.5 percent, are East Baton Rouge, Caddo, St. John the Baptist, Jefferson, and Ouachita Parishes.
Acadia Parish was not immune last year with two train-vehicle collisions, one of which resulted in two fatalities.
Crowley, in particular, also heard more about Operation Lifesaver and the continuing issue of train-vehicle accidents earlier this week when Capt. Ed Thibodeaux of St. Landry Parish spoke on behalf of OLI.
“It’s a fact that trains are unforgiving,” said Thibodeaux.
He also pointed out that trains do not have steering wheels and cannot swerve to avoid an accident. He added that ideally, it takes at least one mile for a train to stop, but many factors can change that time.
Thibodeaux said that it is also important to remember the weight difference between a train and a car, which can be compared to a car and a soda can. Furthermore, while most associate 18-wheelers as the biggest thing a driver must deal with, but 18-wheelers are much smaller than trains. A train typically weighs about 12 million pounds, while an 18-wheeler weighs 80,000 pounds.
Nationwide, an additional 451 pedestrians were killed and 382 injured while trespassing on train tracks last year, this compared to 417 deaths and 343 injures in 2009.
Total trespasser deaths rose 8.2 percent and trespasser injuries rose 11.4 percent in 2010. States with the most pedestrian-train casualties (deaths and injuries combined) in 2010 were California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York.
Louisiana now ranks 14th nationally in trespasser casualties (fatalities and injuries combined), up from a rank of 15th in 2009. There were 11 fatalities in 2010 compared to 10 in 2009, and 6 injuries compared to 5 in 2009. The top five parishes in Louisiana in trespasser casualties from 2007-2010, comprising 50.7 percent, are Caddo, Ouachita, Bossier, Natchitoches, and St. Tammany parishes.
“Despite overall gains in rail safety in the past decade, these latest statistics show that Operation Lifesaver must continue its work to educate drivers and pedestrians about the dangers present around tracks and trains,” said Sramek.
“Louisiana has doubled its educational efforts through speaking engagements, email newsletters, a restructured website (www.laoperationlifesaver.org), and increased communication to extend its outreach to our citizens,” said Edwards.
During his presentation, Thibodeaux also discussed the trespassing pedestrian issue. Modern trains do not have the same loud click-clack sound that many have become accustomed to hearing. Thus, pedestrians that decide to use train tracks as a walking path don’t hear the train coming most of the time until it is too late.
Louisiana Operation Lifesaver pro vides speakers for free rail safety presen tations and materials for audiences of any profession and age group, along with resources on its website, www.laoperationlifesaver.org. “We need to successfully educate people to stay off the tracks, understand and obey crossing laws, and use common sense around trains,” said Edwards.