Florida ranks among the Top 10 for railroad crossing accidents, new survey says

Every week it seems there’s a report of an accident between pedestrians and trains.

With the growth in popularity of high-speed train service like Virgin/Brightline between Miami and West Palm Beach, lawmakers called for a federal review of the train company’s safety protocols.

More than a dozen pedestrians have been killed since yellow Brightline trains began test runs in South Florida in 2017, including a recent accident in May that killed a 31-year-old woman who was trying to cross the tracks in Lake Worth.

Railroad crossing accidents haven’t gone unnoticed nationwide.

On Monday, Injury Claim Coach, a Miami company that offers advice on personal injuries, released results from its Railroad Crossings study. Researchers analyzed four years of data from the Federal Railroad Administration — 2014 to 2018.

Florida accident ranking

The study found that Florida is sixth among states with the highest number of railroad crossing accidents – 462 total reported railroad-related accidents between 2014 and 2018 in the Sunshine State, a spokeswoman for Injury Claim Coach said.

Of these 462 accidents, nearly 16% resulted in a fatality and 25% resulted in injury. This puts Florida at No. 11 for states with train accidents that cause death and 27th for accidents that lead to injuries, researchers found.

“Along the east coast of Florida, between Miami and Jacksonville, there were 76 train fatalities in three years led by the high-speed Brightline rail,” Injury Claim Coach noted in its analysis. The figure includes Florida East Coast Railway freight trains on the Florida East Coast tracks since 2015, according to the USA Today-Florida network.

“In Florida, many train-related deaths are linked to urban, low-income areas where pedestrians live near railroads and may feel less inclined to heed safety precautions,” Injury Claim Coach said.

Texas was the most dangerous state, with 1,223 accidents of which 7.5% were fatal. California was second with 801 and nearly 29% fatal. Illinois was third with 619 accidents and a nearly 20% fatality rate.

In 2017, railroad trespassing fatalities reached a 10-year high with 575 deaths attributed to trespassing and 888 total train-related accidents, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Forbes reported that year that a train hits one person or vehicle every three hours across the U.S.

According to the study, there were over 10,700 highway-railroad crossing accidents across the U.S. Of these, more than one in four railroad accidents resulted in an injury, and more than one in 10 killed someone.

Who gets into the accidents?

Most of the fatal accidents — including Brightline/VIrgin, freight lines, and the Tri-Rail commuter train — involved pedestrians at a rate of more than 65%. School buses (one-third) and motorcycles (nearly 29%) were also at a higher risk of mortality when involved in train collisions, according to the study.

But only three school buses were involved in railroad crossing accidents in the four-year survey period through 2018. Cars meeting trains in crashes were still tops, with 4,796 accidents, compared to the 862 pedestrians. But car-train crashes weren’t as fatal at about 7%.

The main reason for these accidents, accounting for more than a third of the incidents? Drivers and pedestrians fail to stop and give the fast-moving trains the right-of-way at crossings.

Suicides and railroad crossings

Suicides and attempted suicides accounted for 2% of the reasons for such accidents.

Florida ranked No. 11 among the states with the highest number of suicides or attempted suicides per 100,000 residents, according to the data.

Men were more than twice the number of women who opted to attempt suicide by stepping in front of a train. The state with the most suicide-related incidents was Kansas, followed by Illinois and Indiana.

New York was a notch below Florida at No. 12.

The suicide-related railroad incidents were more common in the spring and summer months — with more than one in 10 taking place in July and nearly as many in March and May, according to the study.

Jacksonville station rank

Jacksonville’s train station was determined to be the most dangerous station near a railroad crossing in Florida, according to the data that found 44 accidents happened near the station.

In September a school bus and train were involved in a crash in Jacksonville that sent one adult to the hospital, First Coast News reported. There were no students on the bus, according to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Department.

Safest states

The safer states according to the data: Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Utah, where the highest number of railroad incidents was five in any of the states’ major cities.

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.
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