Tennessee train accident claims life of woman walking on tracks

A Chattanooga area woman died in an early January train accident, highlighting the dangers of walking on or near train tracks.

A woman walking on train tracks in Bradley County, just east of Chattanooga, reportedly died after a train struck her in the early morning hours of Friday, January 2, 2105. According to the Times Free Press, the woman and her friend were on the tracks near the town of McDonald, where they live. The train hit them both, but the other woman survived and suffered minor injuries.

The accident came several months after a mid-2014 crash in Harriman, near Knoxville, which killed two and seriously injured two others after a train struck a passenger vehicle. NBC affiliate WBIR reported that the vehicle's driver attempted to cross the tracks ahead of the train, but failed to make it on time.

Prevalence of train accidents

Operation Lifesaver, a national organization that advocates railroad safety, has compiled data from the Federal Railroad Administration on the numbers of collisions, injuries and deaths associated with accidents at railroad-highway crossings. Overall, the number of collisions has declined significantly since 1981, from about 9,400 to just 2,087 in 2013.

The numbers of injuries and fatalities are also down from the early 1980s, although they are still significant. In 2013, there were a reported 929 injuries and 251 deaths stemming from train-car accidents across the United States.

In addition, per Operation Lifesaver's data, about 75 percent of these crashes occur within 25 miles of the victim's home, and motorists are about 20 times more likely to die in train accidents than they are in crashes involving other automobiles. Thus, while these types of accidents are somewhat rare, they tend to result in devastating consequences when they do happen.

The Federal Railroad Administration also provides statistics on the number of trespassers who have been injured or killed on railroad property over the past several years. Between 2011 and 2014, there were 83 such casualties in Tennessee, including one in Bradley County and eight in Hamilton County. Davidson County, which includes Nashville, had the highest number of casualties, with 18 over this three-year period.

Train crossing safety tips

The Tennessee chapter of Operation Lifesaver offers several safety tips for both drivers and pedestrians who are near train tracks. For motorists, the organization recommends paying close attention to advanced warning signs, which are typically found several hundred feet before the train crossing. There are also usually large "R X R" pavement markers and stop lines, which drivers should never cross when the red lights marking railroad crossings are flashing. Even if the lights are not on, however, drivers should still look both ways before crossing.

Although it may seem like common sense, drivers should never attempt to race trains and attempt to cross the tracks before the train hits the intersection. This is especially true at night, when it can be more difficult to judge speed and distance.

For pedestrians, Operation Lifesaver Tennessee advises that the only safe place to cross train tracks is at a marked public crossing, and they should only cross after looking both ways. Pedestrians should also avoid texting and other distractions when near tracks, as trains can be quieter than many people realize. It is important to note that train tracks are private property, so individuals should avoid walking on or near them at all times.

Although these tips should help reduce the risk, even the best preventative measures may not stop a train accident from occurring. If you or someone close to you has been seriously injured or killed in a railroad accident, you may need to seek compensation for medical costs, loss of wages and pain and suffering. To learn more, consult an experienced Chattanooga personal injury attorney.

Keywords: train accident, railroad crossing