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Source: Federal Railroad Administration Office of Safety; preliminary 2013 and 2014 statistics The national nonprofit rail safety education organization cited preliminary 2014 Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics showing that U.S. crossing collisions rose 8.8 percent in 2014, to 2,280 from 2,096 in 2013; crossing fatalities increased 15.6 percent to 267 vs. 231 in 2013; and crossing injuries fell 14.4 percent to 832 from 972 in 2013. Fatalities caused by persons trespassing on railroad tracks and property surged 21.8 percent in 2014 to 526 (vs. 432 in 2013), while trespass injuries dropped 2.8 percent in 2014 to 419 (vs. 431 in 2013). For 2014, the rail trespass casualty rate (deaths and injuries per million train-miles) is 1.23, its highest level in the last decade, and the highway-rail incident rate (incidents per million train-miles) is 2.98, the highest since 2008, Rose noted. "Historically, highway-rail grade crossing collisions have dropped greatly in recent decades," Rose pointed out. "While the number of people injured in crossing crashes and pedestrian-train incidents dropped in 2014, the statistics show that challenges remain in our mission to educate a busy, distracted public about the need for caution at train tracks," said Rose. States with the most crossing collisions in 2014 were Texas, Illinois, California, Indiana and Georgia. States with the most pedestrian-train casualties (deaths and injuries combined) in 2014 were California, Texas, Illinois, Pennsylvania and New York. "These preliminary 2014 statistics demonstrate the continuing need to raise public awareness through our national 'See Tracks? Think Train!' campaign," Rose continued. "Operation Lifesaver, in partnership with major freight railroads, commuter and light rail systems, state and local law enforcement, and transportation agencies, will be expanding the campaign and developing new educational materials to encourage Americans to make safe decisions around tracks and trains," she concluded.
From the Sunday Maine Telegram, April 27, 2014 (click here to read the original) The caption reads, "The kids got on track to hike ..." Ha, ha. I got it as observed in the Outdoors section of the April 13 Maine Sunday Telegram ("Kid Tracks: Outdoor family fun never really ages"). The photo of two little girls holding hands walking down the railroad tracks was part of a story on outdoor family fun. Did Mom and Dad realize that walking along railroad tracks is not only illegal, but highly dangerous? Did they remember that last year in the Portland area there were several serious rail trespass incidents - one that resulted in a fatality and another necessitating the amputation of a man's leg? They are among the 908 individuals injured or killed last year in the United States walking or otherwise trespassing on private railroad property. Maine Operation Lifesaver has volunteers who, nearly every day, are educating the public about the tragic consequences when a multimillion-pound train bears down on an individual or recreational vehicle that shouldn't have been there in the first place. Frederic Hirsch state coordinator, Maine Operation Lifesaver Bangor
"BRUNSWICK, Maine The Federal Railroad Administration announced the Town of Brunswick, Northern New England Passenger Authority, and Maine Department of Transportation, among other partners, will participate in a field research program to develop and test new trespass detection and deterrent technologies." Read more...
At Maine Operation Lifesaver's annual meeting on Saturday, November 9 at the Great Falls Model Railroad Club in Auburn, FRA rail trespass specialist and Maine O/L volunteer Mike Grizkewitsch will make a presentation on the pilot project.
"It's happening with increasing frequency around the nation: Someone distracted by their cellphone, iPod or other device walks in front of a moving train, according to transportation experts." Read more...
The Maine Transportation Safety Coalition, a group of statewide officials working to promote safe transportation, has recognized Maine O/L State Coordinator Fred Hirsch and the organization's three dozen volunteers with the Traffic Safety Champion Award. The accolades specifically refer to efforts by Operation Lifesaver to educate the public over the past 18 months along the 28-mile rail corridor between Portland and Brunswick where Amtrak passenger service has now been extended. Trains operating as slow as ten miles per hour are now operating at 60 miles per hour and higher. Volunteers performed well over 100 presentations to schoolchildren, professional drivers, emergency responders, and driver education students among others about the dangers inherent at railroad crossings and along railroad right of way. This was in addition to many displays and exhibits promoting rail safety in the six communities along the line.
While vehicle-train collisions and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings were lower across the U.S. in 2012, crossing-related fatalities were flat and rail trespass deaths and injuries rose from 2011, according to Operation Lifesaver, Inc. The national nonprofit rail safety education organization cited preliminary 2012 Federal Railroad Administration statistics showing that rail trespass deaths and injuries were at their highest levels since 2008. Here in Maine there were two trespass fatalities last year compared to no such deaths or injuries in 2011. However, train-vehicle collisions in the state dropped from four to two between 2011 and 2012 with no injuries reported.
"We are gratified with the continued improvement in highway-rail grade crossing collisions, but educating a distracted public in order to reduce trespassing injuries and fatalities continues to be a challenge," said Operation Lifesaver President and CEO Joyce Rose.
Overall, U.S. crossing collisions were down 5.1% in 2012 from 2011, to 1,953; crossing fatalities were essentially unchanged at 270; and crossing injuries fell 11.4% to 917, FRA statistics reveal. Fatalities to persons trespassing on railroad tracks and property rose 7.5% in 2012 to 442, and trespass injuries rose 10.4% from 2011 to 405.
States with the most crossing collisions in 2012 were Texas, California, Illinois, Indiana and Georgia. States with the most pedestrian-train casualties (deaths and injuries combined) in 2012 were California, Texas, Pennsylvania, New York and Florida.
"It s a sobering fact that the number of Americans killed while trespassing on train tracks continues to outpace fatalities from vehicle-train collisions," Rose stated. "Operation Lifesaver, in partnership with major freight railroads, commuter and light rail systems, state and local law enforcement, and transportation agencies, is expanding our efforts to encourage Americans to make safe decisions around tracks and trains," she concluded.
By Julie Sneider, Assistant Editor
As the new president and chief executive officer of Operation Lifesaver Inc. (OLI), Joyce Rose is taking over at an important juncture in the organization s history -- and in her career.
The nonprofit, railroad-safety education organization is coming off a challenging period that began in 2011, when a good portion of its U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) funding was discontinued as part of a SAFETEA-LU extension measure. As a result, OLI lost nearly all the funds it used for operations.
"There was a scary period of not knowing how to move forward," says Rose, a former Capitol Hill staffer who became OLI s top exec on Dec. 3. She credited her predecessor, Helen Sramek, with being "masterful" at getting OLI through that initial period of uncertainty prior to retiring in November 2012.
The U.S. Class Is came to OLI s aid and replaced the loss of federal funds -- about $475,000 worth, according to Rose. Moreover, representatives from the Class Is agreed to join OLI s board of directors -- a first in Operation Lifesaver s 40-year history.
Also part of the organization s recent transitional period is new leadership in Rose. The job represents a significant transition in her own life after serving on Capitol Hill for 25 years.
Her tenure there included 12 years as a staff member for the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, where she oversaw legislative actions authorizing Federal Transit Administration programs, and developed the transit titles of the 2012 MAP-21 legislation and the 2005 SAFETEA-LU authorization. From 2008 to 2012, she served as staff director for T&I s Subcommittee on Railroads and Hazardous Materials. Prior to T&I, she spent 13 years as a professional staffer for the Senate Committee on Appropriations, where she worked for the transportation subcommittee.
Knowing that her boss, U.S. Rep. John Mica (R-Fla.), would reach his term limit as House T&I Committee chairman at 2012 s end, Rose concluded it was an appropriate time for her to change direction.
"Twenty-five years is a long time to do anything," she says.
When she learned Operation Lifesaver s national office was looking for a new CEO, she thought the job would be a good fit.
"It seemed like a great opportunity to wear a white hat," she says. "There is nothing gray about this kind of job. It s all about saving lives and educating people about the dangers on and around railroad property."
Operation Lifesaver presents free rail-safety educational programs to school groups, driver education classes, community groups, law enforcement officers and emergency responders. The organization started in 1972, when the Idaho governor s office, Idaho Peace Officers and Union Pacific Railroad launched a six-week public awareness campaign to reduce accidents and fatalities at rail crossings. Over time, the program expanded to all 50 states.
In a way, leading a nonprofit safety-education group marks a return to Rose s professional roots: Before working for Congress, she was a teacher in Maryland public schools. At OLI, she supports the national effort -- carried out by 50 Operation Lifesaver state offices and 1,400 volunteers -- to decrease fatalities and accidents by teaching people how to be safe around crossings and rail property.
During her first year in office, Rose plans to focus on two main goals: continuing to reposition the organization onto "sound financial footing" with its USDOT and railroad funding partners; and making what she terms an "important change" in how OLI communicates its message. To increase its profile, OLI is transitioning from a "certified-presenter model" involving in-person presentations of safety educational materials to a web-based "authorized volunteer" model.
"We re going to use technology, social media and innovative communications like our e-learning tools to reach a greater audience," says Rose.
That transition already has started. More educational materials -- some are interactive -- are posted on the OLI website, oli.org. And even more e-learning tools and interactive resources will be posted in 2013, including one that "will teach people how to recognize highway rail signs and signals in a fun way," says Rose. OLI also is increasing its presence on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
"If you look at safety statistics, while we have seen railroad highway crossing accidents go down dramatically over the decades, we are having less success at getting down the number of trespasser fatalities, [a result of] people walking on the tracks or right of way," Rose says. Increasingly, many trespassers are wearing ear buds and, as a consequence, may not hear an oncoming train, she notes.
And, seeing a need to educate the growing transit-riding crowd on rail safety issues, Rose hopes OLI can be a "full partner" with the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) as the agency ramps up its new authority to regulate transit system safety, a role created under the new surface transportation legislation known as MAP-21.
"There are more light rail, commuter rail and heavy rail systems in the country than ever before, and transit ridership is up to 10.5 billion rides a year," Rose says. "Although statistically it is a very, very safe form of transportation, there still are fatalities and injuries on transit systems, and we want to prevent those that occur from trespassing on the rail or not knowing the safe way to use the train."
As for OLI s ongoing funding issues, Rose plans on being a strong voice for restoring the federal dollars that were eliminated under the SAFETEA-LU extension measure. Historically, OLI received most of its funds from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), with a small amount coming from the FTA. It was the highway funds -- the biggest portion -- that were discontinued in 2011.
"I personally think it s appropriate for the USDOT to be a funding partner for this safety program, and I m very hopeful that we ll be able to do that again in the future," Rose says. "I have very strong relationships with the folks at FHWA, FRA and FTA. Those are programs I ve worked with over the years on the Hill. So, a big part of my job now is being the face and point person for working with those funding partners at the USDOT and the railroads."
The Maine Operation Lifesaver 2012 annual meeting included nearly two dozen presenters including four new individuals who were trained only hours earlier to become part of the rail safety team. The three-hour event included a business meeting, training, lunch, the debut of two new videos, and gifts and prizes to all attending. During the business meeting, State Coordinator Fred Hirsch gave an update on education efforts along the Portland-Brunswick corridor where Amtrak service would begin in a matter of weeks; that a law enforcement train had been arranged along the Maine Eastern Railroad (see release below); a new poster was revealed which will be given to railroads for posting on signal boxes; the U.S. Attorney's Office is donating three 17-inch computer monitors to Maine Operation Lifesaver; and that the Maine Department of Transportation was likely to renew its multi-thousand dollar credit line for Maine O/L. New presenters introduced included Glenn MacNeil of North Windham, Jason Worcester of Portland, Travis Johnson of Sabattus, and Tim De Roche of Auburn. Mike Grizkewitsch, the Federal Railroad Administration's trespass specialist, updated those attending on trespass prevention efforts nationwide and guidance around the Operation Lifesaver national website (www.oli.org). A delicious lunch was served by our hosts, the Great Falls Model Railroad Club in Auburn, at their Hobo Caf�. The club was presented with a plaque recognizing its major contribution to rail safety (see release below). Two new videos, one targeting passenger rail riders and the other new drivers (see release below), were shown to the more than two dozen attending.
Operation Lifesaver, Inc. has added two snappy, to-the-point videos to its library of nearly two dozen videos which dramatize to the potential dangers at railroad crossings and the seriousness of trespassing on private railroad property. "Imagine" has important safety information and tips to help new drivers avoid a tragic scenario. According to government statistics, drivers are 20 times more likely to die in a train-car collision than in a crash with another motor vehicle. According to OLI President Helen Sramek, the video is a digital tool to help new drivers understand what's at stake each time they approach a highway-rail grade crossing. "What Smart Commuters Know" is a fast-paced, fun video to help riders understand the importance of avoiding distraction on their daily commute or riding a train long distance. Operation Lifesaver Education and Training Director Wende Corcoran noted that "What Smart Commuters Know" is a versatile educational tool. The three and a half minute video will be used by Maine Operation Lifesaver trained volunteers during free safety presentations in their communities. You can forward the video via email or share it with your friends on Facebook. The videos were developed through a grant from the Federal Railroad Administration.
Area law enforcement from ten agencies were aboard a Maine Eastern Railroad train in October to learn more about the ongoing issue of trespassing on private railroad property, to better understand how it pertains to Maine law, and to ensure the safety of officers and deputies when investigating such incidents. Leading the discussion was Michail Grizkewitsch, trespass specialist for the Federal Railroad Administration and a Maine Operation Lifesaver volunteer. Trespassing includes walking, hunting, riding a snowmobile, ATV, or motorbike, or cross-country skiing on or along railroad right of way, or fishing or jumping from railroad bridges. It also includes vandalizing or otherwise tampering with rail equipment. The trip began at Wiscasset and continued for 45 minutes into Brunswick. There, sheriffs and deputies, police chiefs and officers left the train for further discussion and to watch a safety video inside. Those attending boarded the train again and talked more about trespassing and its consequences, completing their trip back in Wiscasset. Among those on board were representatives from the Knox, Lincoln, and Sagadahoc County Sheriff's Departments, the Maine State Police, and the Rockland, Bath, Falmouth, Cumberland, Freeport, and Yarmouth Police Departments.
The Great Falls Model Railroad Club of Auburn has been recognized by Maine Operation Lifesaver for its "many years of dedication to railroad safety education through its members and club activities." A plaque was presented to club President Edward Leslie by Darry Nile, Maine O/L's treasurer and long time volunteer, at the club headquarters. Club members have made literally hundreds of railroad safety presentations in the Lewiston-Auburn area. Among those club members who double as railroad safety volunteers are Tom Coulombe, Jay Calnan, and David Gilchrist of Lewiston, Stephen Martelli of Auburn, Dick Clark of Green, Phil Clough of Bridgton, and Paul Lodge of Minot, and Travis Johnson of Sabattus.
Preliminary Federal Railroad Administration figures indicate the number of railroad trespass fatalities in the United States fell slightly in 2011 and injuries caused by illegal activity on or around railroad tracks dropped substantially. Incidents at railroad crossings fell, but fatalities and non-fatal injuries rose.
Total fatalities determined to be trespassing last year were 428, a decrease of 1.4 percent from the 434 deaths a year earlier. Injuries not causing death decreased more dramatically down 10.8 percent from 388 in 2010 to 346 in 2011.
The number of train-vehicle collisions nationwide totaled 1,956 last year, or a three percent drop from 2,017 such incidents in 2010. However, non-fatal injuries jumped 12.9 percent from 854 to 964 between 2010 and 2011, and fatalities were up 2.3 percent from 256 to 262.
States with the most crossing collisions in 2011 were Texas, Indiana, California, Louisiana and Illinois. States with the most pedestrian-train casualties (deaths and injuries combined) in 2011 were California, Texas, Illinois, Florida and New York.
In Maine, statistics gathered by Maine Operation Lifesaver show there were four train-vehicle collisions in 2011 including one fatality, but no non-fatal injuries. There were no deaths or other injuries caused by trespassers in Maine last year.
A grant of $500 has been gratefully accepted by Maine Operation Lifesaver courtesy of the Maine Rail Group. The 2011 year-end gift will be used as part of rail safety education efforts during the next year along the Portland-Brunswick corridor.
Maine Rail Group is an organization of transportation professionals and other individuals devoted to promoting freight and passenger rail statewide. In a letter from MRG's President Jack Sutton, it states the grant "is a token of our appreciation for OLS's important and ongoing contributions to public and railroad safety throughout this region."
Funds will be spent primarily on educational material distributed to thousands of children and adults during presentations and at community events between now and the fall of 2012 when Amtrak service commences along the line. At that time, the 32-mile segment will host many more trains operating at considerably higher speeds necessitating a major outreach to alert the public about the dangers of trying to beat trains at railroad crossings and trespassing such as walking and operating recreational vehicles on private railroad property. Among the items given away at Maine Operation Lifesaver events are brochures targeted to various groups, Maine railroad trading cards, pencils, bookmarks, coloring and activity books, and key chains. Each item carries the railroad safety message.
Note: Maine Operation Lifesaver debuted in 1984.
With cutting spending the main topic of discussion in Washington, D.C., Operation Lifesaver, Inc. President Helen M. Sramek recently testified on the organization's role in improving safety around railroad tracks and trains at a hearing of the House Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines and Hazardous Materials.
"Operation Lifesaver exists because of a startling fact - about every three hours in the United States, a person or a vehicle is hit by a train. We are the only nationwide public rail safety organization whose sole mission is to save lives and reduce injuries at highway-rail crossings and on or around railroad tracks," Sramek testified.
The trained and certified volunteers who provide free Operation Lifesaver safety presentations nationwide are one of the nonprofit group's greatest strengths, Sramek noted. Asserting that safety is a shared responsibility between the public and private sectors, Sramek discussed Operation Lifesaver's mission to carry out its railroad public safety information and educational programs in all 50 states.
She noted several reasons why Operation Lifesaver's contributions are important, including:
"In the four decades since its founding in 1972, OLI's grassroots network has become part of the national rail safety solution through partnerships, presentations, organized media events, and more recently, enhanced use of technology through web-based training. I urge members of Congress to maintain your investment in this national Operation Lifesaver program," Sramek concluded, "because as the need for safe transportation grows, so does the value of Operation Lifesaver."
New PSAs Rolled Out Promoting Rail Safety
Operation Lifesaver has produced and is distributing a new set of television and radio public service announcements (PSAs) nationwide. They demonstrate to pedestrians and drivers how to use common sense around tracks and trains. The PSAs use humor to convey a serious message about train safety to young adults and families. The campaign, entitled “Shark,” compares staying away from railroad property as being just as smart as staying out of shark-infested waters and other dangerous practices.
Click this link www.oli.org/shark to view and listen to the new PSAs.
FRA Releases Demographic Report on Rail Trespasser Fatalities
Trespassers account for the largest number of fatalities in the railroad industry – approximately 500 per year. In order to better understand who is trespassing, their locations, and the reasons they are on railroad property, the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) issued a report using three years of reported trespasser fatalities. Medical examiners and coroners across the country were surveyed, and based on the best information available from those who elected to participate in the study, the average trespasser is most often a 38-year-old Caucasian male under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs, with a median household income of $36,000. More than 25 percent did not graduate from high school and 18 percent were determined to be suicides.
The report, Rail-Trespasser Fatalities: Developing Demographic Profiles, includes a state-by-state breakdown and shows California and Texas recording the highest number of such events. The report strongly recommends additional demographic analysis to reinforce and expand on these results in order to develop targeted educational and outreach programs and law enforcement initiatives to reduce the number of rail trespassing incidents.
The report is available at www.fra.dot.gov/downloads/safety/tdreport_final.pdf
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