The national nonprofit rail safety education organization cited preliminary 2014 statistics from the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA), which showed that U.S. crossing collisions increased 8.8 percent to 2,280 in 2014, while crossing fatalities climbed 15.6 percent to 267, said OLI President and Chief Executive Officer Joyce Rose in a press release.
Fatalities caused by people trespassing on railroad tracks and property surged 21.8 percent to 526 last year, Rose said. Trespass injuries dropped 2.8 percent to 419, while injuries that occurred at grade crossings fell 14.4 percent to 832.
The numbers indicate that for 2014, the rail trespass casualty rate — deaths and injuries per million train miles — is 1.23, the highest level in the last decade. 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 said. "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."
States with the most crossing collisions last year 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.
Rose said the trend demonstrates the continuing need to raise public awareness through OLI's national "See Tracks, Think Train!" campaign.
"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 added.
Meanwhile, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) announced it would host a forum March 24-25 on the dangers of trespassing on railroad rights of way.
NTSB member Robert Sumwalt will chair the forum, titled, "Trains and Trespassing: Ending Tragic Encounters."
The event will feature speakers who have been seriously injured by trains; those whose communities have been affected; and railroad employee assistance program employees whose train crews have struck people on railroad property.
The forum will draw on the expertise of railroads, regulators and researchers to review the diversity of trespassing accidents and incidents and look at current and future prevention strategies, according to an NTSB press release.