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John Townsend
Public Relations Manager, DC
O: (202) 481-6820 (ext. 4462108)
C: (202) 253-2171
jtownsend@aaamidatlantic.com

WASHINGTON, D. C. (Tuesday, August 7, 2018) ––Two women were killed in July after they were struck by a CSX freight train in Germantown. In Central Virginia, two teenagers, ages 18 and 13, died in May when they were blindsided and struck by an Amtrak train while watching another train traveling in the opposite direction. These tragedies underscore the fact almost 100 lives were lost in rail-related incidents in Virginia, Maryland, and the District of Columbia in the period from January 2015 through 2018 year-to-date. The overwhelming majority of them - 81 persons were killed while wandering, walking, or fooling around on or near train tracks, which is against the law. Even so, 18 people perished in vehicle-train collisions across the region. Nationwide, half of train deaths, 577 in 2015 and 2016, were attributed to suicides. The specter of suicide by train” is rearing its head across the region, and exceeds fatalities in crossing crashes in the area.

 

“Trespassing along railroad rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths across the entire region and the United States. Such fatalities are at a ‘ten-year high’ across the nation and region. A probable motive behind a number of ‘rail trespasser fatalities’ may be ‘suicide by train,’” said John B. Townsend II, AAA Mid-Atlantic’s Manager of Public and Government Affairs. “We can break the rail casualty chain of events by avoiding short cuts across or along railroad tracks. If you are walking close to railroad tracks, avoid distractions and be sure to put down the phone, or remove your earbuds or headphones because you may not hear a train approaching, since ‘modern trains are much quieter and faster,’ law enforcement agencies warn.”

 

RAIL TRESPASSER DEATHS IN REGION BY CALENDAR YEAR 2012-2018 YTD

Jurisdiction

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018 YTD

Total 2012-2018 YTD

Maryland

5

8

9

9

14

13

2

60

Virginia

6

9

8

13

10

11

5

62

District

 

 

 

1

1

2

 

4

Source: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data. (Does Not Include Incidents on WMATA)                                          

 

During the first four months of 2018, an aggregate of 341 persons lost their lives along railroad tracks nationwide, reports the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). Such deaths are wretchedly instantaneous. In the period from January 2012 through 2018 year-to-date, a total of 126 persons were fatally struck by trains along railroad rights-of-way in Virginia, Maryland and in Washington, D.C. That is according to an analysis by AAA Mid-Atlantic of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) metadata. The death toll includes 62 persons in Virginia, 60 individuals in Maryland, and four souls in the District of Columbia. The tragic tally includes a 13-year-old girl who was lethally hit by a VRE train atop the Bull Run Bridge while hiking with her family on June 28, 2017, and a 67-year-old pedestrian who was run over by an eastbound Amtrak passenger train in Gaithersburg on January 23, 2018. On average, 21 persons lose their lives each year in rail trespassing mishaps across the region, vastly outnumbering highway-rail crossing fatalities around the area.

 

While train derailments and fatal vehicle-train crashes at railroad crossings generate and garner most of the headlines, more people are killed in rail-related “trespassing” incidents. The roll includes pedestrians terminally struck by passing trains and others who met their demise while crossing or standing on train tracks. The 50 states and the District have promulgated laws regulating highway-rail grade crossings, driver behavior at those crossings and prohibiting “trespassing” on private railroad property, including railroad rights-of-way. In the period from 2015 through the first few months of 2018, there were 70 rail trespasser casualties (fatalities and injuries) in Virginia, compared to 66 rail incidents, deaths and injuries, in Maryland, and four such casualties in Washington, D.C., according to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis.

 

During the summer of 2012, two young ladies were killed when a CSX coal train derailed on the bridge the college students were sitting on “in the heart of historic Ellicott City.” A February 2018 study by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) reveals that, “Since 2005, over three-fifths of deaths in rail incidents have been pedestrian trespassers, and vehicle-train accidents at railroad grade crossings account for nearly one-third.” Since 2015, the ratio is 81.8 percent (tracks trespass deaths) to 18.2 percent (grade crossing deaths) across Maryland, Virginia and the District. On June 23, a 19-year-old cyclist was struck and killed by a charter bus after his wheel got stuck in the trolley tracks on H Street NE in Washington, D.C.

 

Death rides the railroad tracks. At least 27 persons were killed as the result of collisions involving vehicles and locomotives or rail cars on or near highway-rail grade crossings in Virginia and Maryland in the period from January 2015 through 2018 year-to-date. Once again, these are the findings of a review of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data by AAA Mid-Atlantic. During this period, 22 persons were killed in such incidents in Virginia, and five persons perished in highway-rail crossing crashes in Maryland. These train deaths are a graphic reminder that a person or vehicle is hit by a train about every three hours in the United States. From 2012-2017, there were 15 highway-rail incidents involving Virginia Railway Express (VRE) commuter-oriented trains and Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) trains, the FRA reports. “Virginia accounted for approximately 17 trespass and 30 grade crossing incidents” in 2016.  

 

HIGHWAY-RAIL FATALITIES IN THE REGION BY CALENDAR YEAR 2012-2018 YTD

Jurisdiction

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018 YTD

Total 2012-2018 YTD

Maryland

 

2

 

1

1

 

1

5

Virginia

6

1

 

5

3

4

3

22

District

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Source: Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) data. (Does Not Include Incidents on WMATA)

 

By the numbers, in the period from 2001 through April 2018, 6,919 persons lost their lives on grade crossings, coroners, medical examiners and Operation Lifesaver report. In fact, the 2017 death toll at highway-railroad crossings comprises the largest number of deaths at grade crossings in the United States since 2007, when 339 persons lost their lives and 1,062 persons were injured in crossing crashes. “A motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in a collision involving another vehicle,” warns the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA). The odds of survival for teens and pedestrians are infinitesimal. “Even if the locomotive engineer sees you, a freight train moving at 55 mph can take a mile or more to stop once the emergency brakes are applied,” said Townsend. “That’s the length of 18 football fields!” 

 

Transportation safety officials also are detecting another alarming trend: a rise in the number of persons reportedly committing suicide by leaping into the path of “fast-moving trains.” At least 30 persons intentionally killed themselves by leaping or walking on the track bed in front of approaching trains in Virginia, Maryland and the District in the period from 2011 to 2017, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. This tragic toll includes 20 persons in Virginia. In addition there were nine suicides by train in Maryland during the period and one person lost his life on track tracks in the District due to suicide. Suicide is one of the leading causes of rail-related deaths in throughout the region, cautions AAA Mid-Atlantic.

          

SUICIDES ON THE RAILS IN THE REGION BY CALENDAR YEAR 2011-2018 YTD

Jurisdiction

Or on transit line

2011

2012

2013

2014

2015

2016

2017

2018 YTD

Total 2012-2018 YTD

Maryland

1

 

1

4

2

1

 

 

9

Virginia

3

1

4

4

3

4

1

 

20

District

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

1

Metro

7

6

4

4*

5*

1

1

1

29

*Suicides/Fatalities: WMATA

 

Suicides along transit rails is a vexing issue for grieving families and friends and Metro. Since 2010, at least 34 persons took their lives by leaping or walking in front of Metro trains. Prior to this decade, 11 persons committed suicide in 2009 alone by deliberating walking into the path of a Metro train. Since 2011, approximately 29 persons have perished at Metro Stations or along the transit system’s track beds after committing suicide or after trespassing on the tracks, according to a review of WMATA data and news accounts. At least 20 committed suicide. However, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) “does not include incidents and accidents on WMATA” in its database. As a transit system, WMATA does not fall under FRA’s purview.

 

On April 25, 2018, a man was struck and killed by a Metro train at the Arlington National Cemetery Metro Station. The police said he intentionally made his way onto the tracks. A pedestrian was struck and killed by a Metro train at the Virginia Square-GMU Station in Arlington on July 13, 2017. The Metro Transit Police said the man was fatally struck by the train after “intentionally” stepping onto the tracks. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated case. In fact, suicides have been attempted at over half of Metro’s stations, and 70 percent of persons struck by Metro trains resulted in fatalities, warns Metro. Of note: “90 percent of the victims had a history of depression,” Metro observed.

 

In the aftermath of five suicides at Metrorail Stations in 2012, Metro launched its suicide prevention program that year. In the previous six-year period, 36 persons killed themselves by jumping in front of Metro trains, including seven in 2011 alone. Even now, two suicide attempts occur monthly along Metro tracks. In 2016, “there were 229 suicides on rail property” in the United States, the CRS reports. “For each year from 2012 to 2017, more than 219 people died by suicide within the U.S. rail system, and another 220 individuals were injured during that period from rail suicide attempts,” explains the Volpe Center at the U.S. Department of Transportation. “In 2015, the U.S. rail system experienced its highest recorded number of suicide incidents with 358 incidents (328 fatal and 30 injuries).” Globally, train stations have become “suicide spots.” In the United Kingdom, “78 percent of all rail fatalities are suicides,” The Guardian reported in 2013.  

 

“Although accidents at railroad crossings are an old problem,” warn the FRA and NHTSA, “the problem is easily avoidable.” In fact, “the two leading causes of rail-related death in the U.S. have nothing to do with operating or riding in a train,” warns the Department of Transportation Volpe Center. “Instead, hundreds of people lose their lives every year on train tracks due to trespassing or suicide.” 

 

Maryland, Virginia and the District consist of a honeycomb of crisscrossing rail and transit lines. In fact: “train traffic through Fairfax County is higher than in many other parts of the United States,” the county’s police department warns. If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at www.suicidepreventionlifeline.org, or call 1-800-273-TALK (1-800-273-8255). Never race a train. Never allow your child or teen to play or walk near railroad tracks. It is against the law and it is trespassing. As a motorist, be prepared to stop between 15 & 50 feet of a railroad crossing, as the law demands. Remember: Stop. Trains Can’t.” September 23-29, 2018 is “Rail Safety Week” (RSW).

 

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AAA provides automotive, travel and insurance services to 57 million members nationwide and nearly 78,000 members in the District of Columbia.  AAA advocates for the safety and mobility of its members and has been committed to outstanding road service for more than 100 years.  The not-for-profit, fully tax-paying member organization works on behalf of motorists, who can now map a route, find local gas prices, discover discounts, book a hotel and track their roadside assistance service with the AAA Mobile app for iPhone, iPad and Android. For more information, visit  http://aaa.com

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