According to figures compiled by the Associated Press, deaths at railroad crossings in Texas have doubled in the last year, renewing questions about whether the thousands of miles of track in the state are being safely maintained and monitored.
The spike in fatalities comes after a four-year period of lowered death tolls in Texas and with the state in the midst of implementing a federally mandated plan aimed at improving rail-crossing safety.
According to The Dallas Morning News, critics of the railroads believe the railroad deserves much of the blame for increasing the speed of trains without adjusting the timing of crossing gates, while state authorities contend that motorists are ultimately responsible for their own safety.
The Associate Press found that 32 people died this year at railroad crossings in Texas, based on federal data, news accounts and statements from the Texas Department of Transportation. For the previous four years, the state had averaged just 20 deaths a year.
As per The Dallas Morning News, Texas was one of 10 states required to develop a railroad crossing safety action as a result of a federal law enacted in 2008. Texas was selected on the basis of the number of incidents at crossings reported for the previous three years. The Texas plan, developed by the state’s Department of Transportation, lists dozens of strategies, including evaluating crossings with multiple accidents and developing outreach programs to better educate the public and law enforcement.
According to the report in The Dallas Morning News, some have said that the real issue is the increasing the speeds of the trains without an adjustment to mechanical devices at crossings to provide longer intervals between initial warnings and the trains’ arrival. Darin Kosmak, director of TxDOT’s rail-highway section, wrote in an email reported by The Dallas Morning News that trains are traveling along the rail line at a maximum speed of 70 mph even though the crossing’s design was based on speeds of no more than 25 mph.