There's a good chance that as you've traveled the many roads and highways here in Tennessee over the years that you paid little attention to just how many miles of railroad track or railroad crossings you've encountered.
The truth is that railways have a pronounced presence here in the Volunteer State with 4,600 highway rail-grade crossings, 2,651 miles of train track and 25 operating railroads.
Unfortunately, with this pronounced presence comes an elevated risk of serious motor vehicle accidents and pedestrian accidents involving trains. Indeed, statistics from the national rail safety group Operation Lifesaver show that Tennessee ranked tenth in the nation last year with 62 train-vehicle collisions resulting in 24 personal injuries and two fatalities.
Pedestrians fared just as badly with 13 personal injuries and seven fatalities.
As if all of this wasn't discouraging enough, figures from the Federal Railroad Administration show that the number of train accident fatalities are steadily increasing as 250 people were killed at railroad crossings across the U.S. in 2013, an 8 percent jump from 2012.
What's behind this startling number of fatalities?
Data from the crash reports associated with the Tennessee train accidents and accidents in other states overwhelmingly shows that distracted driving is a huge part of the problem, as motorists as somehow managing to tune out the warning sights and sounds associated with an oncoming train as they talk or text on a smartphone or listen to music.
The data also shows that the overwhelming majority of pedestrians killed in train accidents were trespassing.
"People do not realize that it is criminal trespassing to walk on
or near railroad tracks. Not only is it against the law [in Tennessee],
you could lose your life," said an official with Operation Lifesaver.
In recognition of this problem, the Tennessee chapter of Operation Lifesaver recently joined forces with the Norfolk Southern railroad company to run the Appalachian Whistle-Stop Safety Train, which stopped in several cities in the state on its way to Virginia. The train's primary purpose is to raise awareness among pedestrians and motorists about both train crossing and general track safety.
Here's hoping these efforts prove successful, and that we see a drop in train accidents here in Tennessee and across the U.S.
If you have been injured or lost a family member in a train accident that you believe was attributable to negligence on the part of a railroad company or other failures, consider speaking with an experienced legal professional as soon as possible.
Source: The Johnson City Press, "Safety Train aims to train Tennesseans to stay back from tracks," Becky Campbell, June 17, 2014