- Associated Press - Saturday, June 27, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - The deaths of two people who were hit by trains while walking or standing on railroad tracks are prompting railroad officials and safety advocates to raise awareness of the dangers of risky behavior around the tracks.

The deaths since May 28 mark the greatest total in St. Joseph County in any year since 2012, according to the Federal Railroad Administration, and are part of a national trend that has seen deadly railroad accidents rise from 405 in 2011 to 501 in 2014.

Railroad officials and safety advocates say most, if not all, of the fatal accidents can be traced to illegal trespassing on railroad property.

“It is not safe and not legal to access railroad property, whether yards or tracks, without permission from the company,” Dave Pidgeon, a spokesman for Norfolk Southern Railroad, told the South Bend Tribune (https://bit.ly/1GyzpvV ).

Indiana law makes trespassing on railroad property a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and a $1,000 fine. Two women were charged last summer after a video showed them surviving a close call with a freight train while walking across a trestle 80 feet high over Lake Lemon in Monroe County in southern Indiana.

The video showed the women start to run, then lay down on the tracks as the 100-car coal train weighing 14,000 tons bore down on them. The train passed over them with just 10 inches of clearance.

Officials say train tracks often cross other natural barriers such as rivers and crowded roads and that people see them as the fastest way to get around the obstacles.

Jessica Feder, Indiana coordinator for Operation Lifesaver, a railroad-safety advocacy group, said northern Indiana typically records more train accidents involving pedestrians than other parts of the state because of heavy rail traffic from Chicago.

Pidgeon said the tracks are the company’s busiest in the country, handling up to 100 trains a day.

Feder said the deaths, including one that occurred Monday when a 51-year-old South Bend man was struck from behind while talking on the Norfolk Southern tracks, reflect just a fraction of the people walking across and along railroad tracks.

“It’s always been a problem, but it’s becoming a bigger problem,” she said. “It’s way more popular and happening a lot more than what you’re seeing from the injuries and deaths.”

Two other people have died since May 1 after being hit by trains in St. Joseph County, but those deaths were ruled suicides.


Information from: South Bend Tribune, https://www.southbendtribune.com

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