State DOTs Support 2023 Rail Safety Week Campaign

Many state departments of transportation worked to support the 2023 Rail Safety Week campaign; an annual week-long event aimed at preventing tragedies around railroad tracks and trains across North America spearheaded by Operation Lifesaver (OLI), Operation Lifesaver Canada, and the Mexican Association of Railroads.

[Above image by OLI]

According to OLI, every year, 2,100 North Americans are killed or seriously injured when they engage in unsafe behavior around tracks and trains. In the U.S. alone, a person or vehicle is hit by a train every three hours, the group said.

“Rail Safety Week focuses awareness and education activities around the country into seven exciting days. Daily themes include rail safety tips emphasizing crossing safety for drivers, trespass prevention for pedestrians, safe practices for transit riders, no photos on tracks and more,” said Rachel Maleh, OLI’s executive director, in a statement.

“During this annual observance, safety partners across North America join us for a concentrated week of sharing the important rail safety message,” she added. “Everyone can help make their communities safer.”

State DOTs from Connecticut to Colorado, as well as in Illinois, Nebraska, and Florida conducted or participated in a variety of rail safety events.

“Too often, families and communities experience the heartbreak of losing a loved one in a preventable rail incident,” noted Jared Perdue, secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation, in a statement.

Perdue noted that, in Florida, trespassing accounted for nearly 70 percent of rail fatalities in 2022, with 65 Floridians struck and killed in rail incidents and 203 more sustaining injuries – “staggering statistics,” in his words, that reflect the importance of responsible decisions and safe behavior around trains and tracks.

Florida DOT’s Jared Perdue. Photo by AASHTO.

“As Florida DOT actively works to reduce these tragedies through increased engineering countermeasures and education, all Floridians – whether driving, walking, or biking – must be safe and sensible around trains and tracks,” he said.

The Florida DOT noted that it continues to use engineering tactics to bolster safety on intercity passenger, commuter, and freight rail systems – including the implementation of rail inspection programs that exceed industry standards, as well as increased physical indicators of a train at rail crossings.

The agency also highlighted its installation of “dynamic envelopes” at all existing rail crossings on Florida DOT roadways and state-owned land to help indicate the clearance needed for trains to safely pass through railroad crossings to keep motorists, bicyclists, and pedestrian out of the danger zone. Those envelopes have reduced the number of vehicles that stop on or too close to railroad tracks by at least 15 percent, the Florida DOT said.

The department also established Operation S.T.R.I.D.E – short for “Statewide Traffic and Railroad Initiative using Dynamic Envelopes” – in 2019 to further combat rail-related fatalities through education, enforcement efforts, and engineering countermeasures.

Meanwhile, the North Carolina Department of Transportation conducted a “tabletop exercise” during Rail Safety Week involving other state and federal agencies, plus private industry partners, at the State Emergency Operations Center in Raleigh on how to respond to train derailments. 

During that mock exercise, those officials worked together to ensure a strong response in the event of a derailment by sharing information and evaluating existing plans. Participants were required to assess their preparedness and coordinate their agency’s respective responsibilities for managing and recovering from this kind of emergency.

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