In 2015, Washington state experienced 27 pedestrian deaths by train on train tracks, ranking the state as ninth nationally in the number of train-track fatalities in the first nine months of last year.
While most were accidents, one-third were determined to be suicides.
The most recent fatality, ruled by the Pierce County Medical Examiner as a suicide, occurred Jan. 2 in Sumner, and was the first fatality of the new year.
Operation Lifesaver, a national organization which focuses on the goal of ending collisions, deaths and injuries at highway-rail grade crossings and on railroad property, works with local networks of volunteers.
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“We promote the three E’s,” said Steve Mills, assistant state coordinator for Operation Lifesaver. “Education, engineering and enforcement.”
After working for the railroad for a number of years, Mills knows firsthand how pedestrian deaths on the railways effect more than the person killed on the tracks.
“It’s tragic when it happens,” he said. “The fatality effects the whole train crew. All you can do is blow the horn, start emergency braking, and pray. A train crew will see an average of seven to 10 collisions in their career.”
The best way to prevent fatalities on railways is to simply stay off the tracks, and stay away from them, Mills said.
“Our motto is ‘See tracks, think trains,” he said.
Mills and other volunteers give presentations at elementary schools, driver’s education courses and senior driving courses.
“With the younger kids, it’s telling them that the train tracks are no place to play,” he said. “We focus more on the driving as participants get older, about not driving around the tracks, or if they’re teenagers, making sure they’re aware they’re trespassing.”
While Washington state saw a unprecedented amount of train fatalities in the last year, Mills says Operation Lifesaver is making a difference.
“It is making a difference, even if it makes a difference in just one person’s life, then it’s been successful,” he said.
To volunteer with Operation Lifesaver, visit http://oli.org/.