15 January, 2000
Railroad fatalities on Metrolink tracks drop to all-time
One Fatality Reported in Calendar Year 1999
Metrolink experienced its lowest
rate of fatality incidents in 1999 with only one reported fatality. That
compares with 13 fatalities in 1998 and 16 in 1997. Over the past five years,
there were 407 railroad related fatalities in all of California - 51 involving
Metrolink Chief Executive Officer
David Solow attributes the drop in fatal incidents to public education and
awareness. “People are just more familiar with the fact that Metrolink trains
are running, are quiet, and are running faster,” he said. “We’ve been working
for seven years to educate the public about rail safety, and it seems to
be paying off.”
As train traffic has increased
significantly in Southern California, the number of railroad crossing fatality
incidents has shot up. Hundreds of incidents and dozens of fatalities have
occurred since 1990, involving either vehicles at rail crossings where trains
always have the right-of-way or pedestrians who trespass on the tracks.
Even though total fatalities
are down, there have been hundreds of “near misses” that could have turned
into tragedies, according to Ed Pederson, Metrolink's Manager of Safety.
“Often, the situation could have turned out differently if timing had been
a split second different.”
Metrolink safety officials say
one of the biggest contributors to railroad incidents is the public’s misperception
about the risks involving trains. They see a train down the tracks, and
it looks like it’s far away and moving slowly. “It sneaks up on them,” says
Pederson. The public also misjudges how wide trains are and stand too close
to the tracks. The track widths of standard railroads are 4 feet 8 inches
wide, but a Metrolink train itself is 10 feet across, about five feet wider
than the track.
There are two distinctly different
population groups most likely to be involved in a fatality - males aged
18 to 28 and mature male drivers over the age of 60. In the last five years,
three fatalities have occurred when mature drivers drove through crossing
gates that were down indicating a train was coming down the tracks. Metrolink
safety officials have focused on reaching the first group through schools
and driving academies, but have found reaching mature drivers to be a challenge.
Many of these visiting senior centers, for example, may not be driving any
The L.A. County Sheriff’s Metrolink
Unit has also put enforcement efforts into place locally to deter motorists
who ignore railroad-crossing warnings. California Assembly Bill 923, authored
by Assembly Member Robert Hertzberg (D-Van Nuys), went into effect on Jan.
1 and raises the penalty for motorist violations at railroad crossings from
$ 104 to $271. A third violation will cost up to $500, depending on the
county where the citation is given. These are comparable fines paid by motorists
caught violating carpool lane rules or running red streetlights.
Fines from violations will help
fund driver education about rail safety and the purchase of additional cameras
to catch violators in the act and provide evidence needed to cite them.
Metrolink currently has two cameras snapping photos of motorists ignoring
warnings at crossings. In addition, future technologies such as cab signaling
that would convey information in time to halt an oncoming train if a motorist
was stuck on the tracks may one day be standard.
Railroad fatality statistics
do not include suicides. Metrolink, like all railroads, follow the same
reporting standard prescribed by the Federal Railroad Administration in
tabulating railroad fatalities. According to state and federal agencies
railroad suicide fatalities are considered intentional acts by the party
The Los Angeles based Southern
California Regional Rail Authority is the parent agency which operates Metrolink
long-distance commuter rail service. With more than 46 train stations serving
a network of 416-miles of track throughout six counties, a total of 29,000
average daily commuters have come to rely on the train service to take them
to work and back.
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