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Va. rail deaths lead to warning from leaders

Several people have been killed on area railroad tracks in recent years, prompting the first national "Rail Safety Week." Safety advocates say technological improvements have made trains quieter, giving people less of a warning that a train is approaching.

BURKE, Va. — Several people have been killed on area railroad tracks in recent years, but leaders said Thursday that people continue to walk along or across tracks despite the dangers.

As they marked the first national Rail Safety Week, Fairfax County leaders spoke at the Virginia Railway Express station in Burke. And their warnings were driven home by a freight train that interrupted remarks by VRE CEO Doug Allen.

“As you can see, trains can come at any time, in any direction,” he said, pausing as the train thundered by. “No one heard that coming and that train couldn’t stop for another mile,” he said. “Anybody that was on that track would be dead.”

Safety advocates say technological improvements have made trains quieter, giving people less of a warning that a train is approaching.

“I want you to think about when you woke up this morning,” said Fairfax County Supervisor John Cook, “and between that time and now, someone in this country has been hit by a train.”

Railroads are “not built for pedestrians on the tracks, and yet we’ve had too many tragic accidents,” he added.

In Virginia, 72 people were injured or killed while trespassing on train tracks last year, according to County Supervisor Jeff McKay. Leaders say Fairfax County sees more train traffic than many other parts of the U.S., and a major freight corridor runs through the eastern part of the county.

“There were several fatalities just in this section of track,” in recent years, said county police officer Chris Cosgriff, as he stood on the platform of the Burke station. “There was one, in fact, just behind where I’m standing.”

He said the problem has been reduced here since a protective fence was put up, but that it remains an issue elsewhere.

On bikes, he and other officers patrol areas where people are still known to cross, and they hand out summons for trespassing. “They’re usually just doing it just to save time,” he said. He often finds himself educating high school-aged kids about the dangers of crossing the tracks.

In June, a teen out hiking died after being hit by a VRE train, as she walked across a railroad bridge near Clifton.


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