How safe is the rail system in your community?

    The number of people who were killed or injured on railroad tracks rose 6 percent in 2013 to nearly 900 people nationwide.


    Pennsylvania counted 44 incidents – down from 51 the year prior, but still more than any other state but four, according to Federal Railroad Administration statistics.

    Norfolk Southern spokesman David Pidgeon, whose company owns more than 20,000 miles of freight line nationally, says he’s not sure why that’s happened.

    Pidgeon is hitting the streets with law enforcement and other public agencies in Lebanon and a dozen or so other communities as part of the company’s annual public information campaign regarding the illegality and danger of trespassing on railroad tracks.

    The 25,000 person farmland-flanked city is a relative hotbed in Central Pennsylvania for accidents, partially because the tracks run through it at street level without any barriers.

    Norfolk Southern, however, isn’t big on erecting fences in high-density areas traversed by ground-level tracks, or partnering with public agencies to do so. The company sees it as too costly because trespassing still occurs and the set up could limit access by first responders in the event of a spill or other emergency, Pidgeon says.

    And ignorance also plays a role, he says.

    “In communities like Lebanon, there’s an unfortunate misunderstanding about the rights, the property rights. People may think it’s OK to just walk along tracks,” Pidgeon says.

    The FRA advocates a combination of barriers and public education, and partnerships among business, government and the rail industry.

    In addition to being risky, accessing rail lines away from public crossings is illegal because it’s considering trespassing on the private property of companies like Norfolk Southern, Pidgeon says.

    Some law enforcement officials say they’ve encountered people wearing earbuds while walking near tracks, which is particularly dangerous.

    They say that most of the “incidents”  are accidents, unlike one sole incident last year in Lebanon.

    That was ruled a suicide, ultimately.

    Deaths and injuries occurred last year in 22 of the Commonwealth’s 67 counties.

    Philadelphia, Allegheny, Beaver and Delaware topped the list.

    More information on how other communities have fared is available from FRA.

    Norfolk Southern owns the tracks where a train struck a sports-utility vehicle last weekend in Newberry Township.

    One passenger was killed; two others – including a toddler – remain hospitalized.

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