Crossing train tracks illegally presents high risk of death, injury

By: 

Senior News Reporter

Data from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) shows trespassing is the most common cause of death and injury in train-related accidents in Hays County.  

The majority of deaths and injuries on Hays County railways can be attributed to trespassing on private property, according to the data. Similar trends can be found in nearby Central Texas counties where rail traffic is present.

FRA records show 14 total accidents from April 2010 to April 2015 in Hays County. Eight of the 14 people injured or killed were trespassing on private property. Three of the trespassing incidents resulted in fatalities.

In April 2015, two incidents of trespassing-related injuries occurred in San Marcos within two weeks of each other. A teenager was injured by a train while walking by the railroad tracks near Jowers Center and the Bobcat Softball Stadium, according to an April 8 University Star article. Less than two weeks later, a man lying on the tracks was killed by a train when he failed to get out of the way after operators sounded a warning horn, according to an April 17 University Star article.

Similar trends are apparent in Guadalupe, Travis, Caldwell and Bexar counties, according to FRA data.

Of Guadalupe County’s 11 reports of train-related injuries and deaths from April 2010 to April 2015, seven involved incidents of trespassing, resulting in three fatalities, according to FRA data.

In Travis County, 11 of the 36 people reported injured or killed were trespassing, according to FRA data. Three out of four killed were trespassing on private rail property.

Bexar County tops the list of accidents with 192 reports of injury or death, according to FRA data. Trespassers accounted for 43 injuries and 19 out of 24 fatalities.

Train-related injuries to trespassers are relatively common and often serious, according to FRA data.

A Union Pacific train on Sept. 25, 2010 in Hays County severed a 20 year-old’s leg above the knee, according to FRA data. Trains traveling through Travis, Guadalupe and Hays Counties have been involved in the severing of limbs and digits, according to FRA data.

Trespassing on railroad property is the current leading cause of train-related deaths in the United States, said Sarah Feinberg, acting administrator of the FRA, in a March 24, 2015 speech. More than 400 trespassing fatalities occurred in 2014 alone. In her speech, she said the statistics are especially sobering because each death could have been prevented.

Feinberg believes trains hold a special mystique in the American psyche. Americans are fascinated by the power, speed and historical significance of trains. It is hardly surprising people want to be near trains, Feinberg said in her speech.

Educating Americans about the inherent dangers of rail lines and train traffic is the most effective approach in reducing the number of deaths and injuries, Feinberg said in her speech. Some people do not understand a train may require almost a mile to stop or dangerous objects may extend past the “footprint of the rail.”

Officials are working with various law enforcement agencies across the nation to increase enforcement of trespassing laws, said Michael Cole, public affairs specialist for the FRA.

“Trespassing is a crime,” Cole said. “It is a big issue, one that we are looking at every day.”