Rail Safety Week Focuses on Keeping Drivers Safe

By Stacey Doud | DFW Newsflash | October 2019

Irving — The Irving Police Department and 600 other agencies around the nation participated in the third annual Operation Clear Track on Tuesday, Sept. 24, as part of Rail Safety Week, Sept. 22-28. This event is the largest rail safety law enforcement project in the U.S.

Rail Safety Week (RSW) is a collaboration between law enforcement agencies, Operation Lifesaver, Amtrak and other local rail companies, such as TEXRail. The goal of RSW is to raise awareness about the importance of rail safety and empower the public to keep themselves safe near railroad crossings and along railroad right-of-ways.
While the number of crossing collisions, deaths and injuries has dropped over the past 50 years, it remains an unfortunate statistic that a person or vehicle is hit by a train about every three hours in the U.S.

Operation Lifesaver lists Texas as the state with the highest number of collisions in the nation based on a study done in 2018 with 246 collisions, 13 deaths and 113 injuries on the tracks.

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) Office of Safety Analysis compared data through several decades and found in 1981 Texas experienced 9, 461 collisions, 728 fatalities and 3,293 injuries. In contrast, the 2018 study found 2,214 collisions, 270 fatalities and 819 injuries. Current FRA data shows that highway-rail grade, an intersection where a roadway crosses railroad tracks at the same level or grade, crossing collisions and pedestrians trespassing on tracks account for over 95 percent of all railroad fatalities.

Operation Clear Track and other educational projects inform the public about the laws and dangers surrounding railroad tracks and may have an influence on the decline of tragedies over time.

“On Sept. 24, we stationed officers around two of the most heavily trafficked intersections in Irving that crossed railroad tracks,” Officer Reeves, public information officer for the Irving Police Department, said. “We focused on MacArthur at Rock Island and Nursery at Pioneer.

“We used motor units [motorcycles] because they are easier to maneuver and not as obvious as a car or a Tahoe. We were looking to cite drivers who did not observe railroad grade crossings and trespassing laws. Many people don’t realize it is illegal to walk down railroad tracks. That’s called trespassing.”

The Amtrak Police Department (APD) is responsible for ensuring the safety of over 30 million customers traveling to more than 500 destinations in 46 states, the District of Columbia and three Canadian provinces on more than 21,400 miles of track. APD partners with federal, state, local, rail and transit law enforcement agencies to provide a police presence at a majority of Amtrak stations and along the right-of-ways.

“Amtrak passenger and employee vigilance is an extremely valuable and effective crime prevention tool,” Amtrak Police Chief Neil Trugman said. “I encourage everyone to report suspicious items, persons, or activity, and unattended bags or objects immediately to the Amtrak Police Department.”

Texas Rail Advocates (TRA), a non-profit, grass-roots organization, reports that only 1 percent of state transportation funding is spent on railroads, maritime movements and ports, aviation, bikeway and pathways, rural bus systems, urban and regional transportation systems, mobility-challenged Texans and all other modes to move people and goods across the state. With about 1,000 people relocating to Texas every day, the roads and highways will not be able to keep up with this growth.

Texas law requires motorists to yield the right of way to trains. It is also against the law to cross tracks if a train is visible or to drive around gates lowered at a railroad crossing. If the gates are down and no train is coming, the road is still considered closed. Walking down the tracks is considered trespassing and is illegal.

With so many rail projects on going in Texas, it is essential the public is aware of these laws.