Deaths on Tracks Surge

Despite NJ Transit and Amtrak efforts, deaths of pedestrians on passenger-rail trackage in New Jersey continue to increase, according to reporting by Mark Mueller in the Star-Ledger (August 28).  In 2012, 22 such deaths occurred; so far this year, 23 deaths have taken place, and if the carnage continues at the current pace 2013 will be the highest in history, eclipsing the peak of 34 in 2010.  A peak this summer—7 people died in an 18-day span beginning July 31—contributed to the total.  Explanations vary, including the convenience of tracks as a shortcut and the effectiveness of trains as a method of suicide.  Railroads generally classify anyone on the tracks as a “trespasser”, which tends to put the responsibility for accidents solely on the individual.  This is similar to the railroads’ “Operation Lifesaver” campaign against grade-crossing accidents nationwide, which emphasizes motorist responsibility but avoids mentioning any need for improved grade-crossing gates and other protection, which would cost railroads money.  However, in New Jersey there has been some investment in deterring pedestrians from entering upon tracks, beyond advertising campaigns (One public service announcement bluntly proclaims, “You’re Dead.”)  In Garfield, the scene of more fatalities than any other New Jersey community, fencing has been erected to deter “trespassing”, and cameras now watch over Amtrak tracks in Hamilton Township, the site of several apparent suicides involving Amtrak high-speed trains.  However, in other countries, railroad rights-of-way are often much more secure; in Great Britain, for example, it is standard practice to fence off all rail lines, to the point that traditionally trains there do not use headlights, there being no need to warn anyone on the tracks.