Police and safety volunteers have dispatched teams to patrol some of the railroad tracks in Prince George’s County, because of the findings of a News4 I-Team investigation.
CSX police and members of Operation Lifesaver, a national organization established to reduce injuries and deaths on railroad tracks, have sent interdiction teams to monitor tracks near Route 1, after seeing an I-Team report showing frequent trespassers illegally and dangerously climbing over busy train tracks near the road.
More than 100 people have been hurt or killed walking along Washington, D.C.-area railroad tracks in the past three years, including some who tried to cross the tracks in areas that a News4 I-Team investigation found were frequently used by "trespassers."
The injuries – and the frequency of the trespassing revealed by the I-Team – are triggering calls for additional fencing, signage or patrols of multiple rail road tracks in one local county.The accidents and injuries involved people young and old, including a college girl and a 91-year-old woman. They happened in broad daylight and the dark of night, along rail tracks in Maryland and Virginia, the I-Team reports.
Hidden cameras deployed in public spaces by the I-Team showed a quick and large procession of trespassers near the CSX tracks along Route 1 in Beltsville, Maryland. The cameras, deployed on multiple days, showed images of people climbing over a prohibited area of the tracks, near a chicken restaurant. In some cases, people stood and waited for trains to pass before crossing.
In March, Lourdes Gomez of Beltsville was hit by a CSX train and badly injured, suffering broken bones, a concussion and shattered teeth. Gomez told the I-Team she didn’t know it was risky to cross the tracks because there were no warning signs or fences.
A separate review by the I-Team found trespassers illegally climbing over tracks north of the MARC station in Riverdale and near Rhode Island Avenue in Hyattsville.
The Riverdale location was the same location in which Mary Gaffney attempted to walk along the tracks in summer 2012.
Gaffney was struck by a CSX train and killed. Her father, Wayne Gaffney, said she was listening to music with earbuds at the time.
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"She was literally pinned in front of the train," he said.
Additional fencing and safety precautions are needed along the tracks in Riverdale, Gaffney said.
"That's where people cross or walk on those train tracks every single day," he said.
The Hyattsville location reviewed by the I-Team, along CSX tracks near Rhode Island, was the site of a 2011 incident in which an elderly woman was hit and injured by a train while trespassing. I-Team cameras captured images of a trespasser in August, within five minutes of arriving at the area.
I-Team crews and cameras were unable to find fencing or no-trespassing signs at any of the three above locations.
Through a study of Federal Rail Administration injury reports, the I-Team found 104 incidents in which "trespassers" were injured or killed by trains in Maryland and Virginia between September 2011 and September 2014.
Overall "trespasser" injuries increased 8 percent nationwide last year, according to a separate study by Operation Lifesaver, a safety group funded in part by the rail industry. But a spokesman for CSX, the owner of a large share of Maryland’s rail tracks, show trespasser injuries declined 14 percent in Maryland and 5 percent in Virginia in 2013.
CSX spokesman Rob Doolittle said the agency’s police department is empowered to arrest trespassers. The agency patrols tracks in the Washington, D.C. to turn away and “educate” trespassers, he said.
"Our special agents are on patrol most of the time and they are always vigilant for opportunities to educate the public or to intercede to prevent someone from entering railroad property without permission," Doolittle said. "So far in 2014, CSX police have made more than 150 contacts with trespassers in the D.C. and Prince George’s County area."
When asked why the company had not installed warning signs or fencing near the locations in Beltsville, Riverdale and Hyattsville, Doolittle said, "We do install signs and placards along the right-of-way when possible, but these fixtures are frequently vandalized. Regarding fences, there are certain locations where they can be helpful. Over time, the Federal Railroad Administration and industry experience has demonstrated that the most effective means of combating trespassing is through education and awareness campaign."