FRA launches initiative to eliminate trespasser and grade crossing deaths

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Ron Batory, Federal Railroad Administration administrator
U.S. Department of Transportation
WASHINGTON — The Federal Railroad Administration is setting up a big tent and inviting in a broad group of interests to join and collaborate to drive incidents of grade crossing and trespassing fatalities to zero.

A summit Oct. 29 drew some 200 parties from railroads, suppliers, trade associations, government, safety advocacy groups and law enforcement for what FRA Administrator Ronald L. Batory called the “pre-game and kickoff” of an initiative to find new ways to address the chronic problem of people in vehicles and on foot being killed by trains.

Already the industry has made strides, Batory said. In the 1970s, 10,000 to 12,000 people died each year at some 200,000 grade crossings. Today there are some 100,000 crossings, and fatalities have dropped to some 1,500 each year.

“It's still 1,500 too many, and they're all preventable,” Batory said. On the other hand, trespassing at one time was hardly an issue, but today some 500 trespassers die annually. The total includes trespasser suicides, something that is getting greater attention among railroads and safety groups.

Crossing and trespasser safety traditionally have been guided by the “Three Es,” engineering, education, and enforcement. Batory added two more, evaluation and evolution.

“We need to inject more technology into each of the Es and make everything we do more robust, more dynamic and interactive, with risk elimination at the forefront,” Batory said. Technology is critical for the future, but he warned tech progress should not be stifled by overregulation.

“Technology will move faster than the ink can be applied or dried [on regulations],” Batory said. By trying to slow the pace of technology with regulation, “it will pass us up. Technology is our key to our future.”

Batory said the summit “reset the stage for determining the future by respecting the past.” What follows in 2019 will be listening sessions with each interest group, followed by a symposium “to discuss initiatives that warrant collaboration, and kick off a living agenda of thought-provoking tasks.

“We must not fear failure. It can only inhibit constructive and sustainable change,” Batory said. “Tomorrow is now. Time is money, but money does not buy safety. Safety never waits or sleeps. Safety is you and me. It is our responsibility and moral obligation to maintain it, and to make a safer world for us to live in.”
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