Trespasser Deaths Identified as a Contributing Factor in Michigan Railway Fatalities

According to a new report that looks at deaths involving trains in West Michigan, more attention needs to be paid to the causes. The report also points out differences in how the accidents were reported.

According to a study published in the American Journal of Forensic Medicine and Pathology, the number of deaths on U.S. railroads has gone up since 2013, reaching a high point of 901 in 2019. From 2010 to 2019, 118 people died in Michigan because of railroads, according to the Federal Railroad Administration.

Western Michigan University and the Arkansas State Crime Lab researchers looked into 14 deaths in West Michigan that were linked to railroads from 2015 to 2019. They looked at each case’s demographics, the parts of the investigation, the type of train, and the death certificates. Nine of the accidents involved people on foot and five involved cars. The victims were mostly 32 years old.

The study found that 50% of the deaths were linked to mental illness or recent psychosocial stressors. Of these, 21% were pedestrians who killed themselves. As many as 79% of the accidents led to deaths. The Michigan Department of Transportation’s Michael Frezell said that trespassers have been the main cause of deaths on railroads.

“The number of accidents involving trains has been going down; it’s the number of deaths from trespassing that has been going up.” “Right now there are public meetings going on to decide where to put fencing along the Michigan Line corridor,” Frezell said. The study says that, besides weather, important investigative factors in fatal railway accidents are rarely reported.

Researchers say that learning more about things like train speed, safety features, and the victims’ position and actions at the time of impact could help us figure out why these kinds of accidents happen. Safety features include stop and yield signs, stoplights, and fencing that are meant to block traffic for both cars and people on foot.

The study found that audio and video recording devices are an important way to report news that is still not used enough. Only 21% of the 14 fatal crashes that were looked at had these kinds of recordings available. This is because railroad companies often wouldn’t let medical examiners and investigators see the recordings. The study said, “Eyewitnesses aren’t always there, and engineers don’t always give accurate accounts.” “Because of this, listening to a recording of the crash is the most accurate way to understand what happened and figure out how the person died.”

The study found that only three of the 14 accidents in West Michigan had recordings, and in only one case could an investigator look at the video footage. It said, “In none of the cases was the medical examiner given an audio or video recording of the crash to watch as part of the death certification process.”

The cameras on most of your locomotives are now mounted near the engineers and face forward. This lets them see what’s going on. “A lot of things have already been caught on tape,” said Curtis Stewart, who is in charge of Operation Lifesaver in Michigan. Michigan Operation Lifesaver is a public education group based in Lansing whose goal is to stop accidents at railroad and highway grade crossings and stop people from trespassing on rail lines. Stewart says that the group has seen a rise in deaths from violating property rights, suicide, and car accidents.

Some trains do not have to have recording devices, though, and the study says that access to recordings varies by jurisdiction. The Federal Railroad Administration wants to pass laws that would require recording devices on some passenger trains. The study points out that this would leave freight trains without adequate protection. He told them to “stay off, stay away, stay safe.” “Do not go near the railroad tracks; stay away from them and you will be safe.”

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