Deaths on Washington’s railroad tracks returned to more-historical levels in 2016 after reaching a concerning number in 2015, according to figures released last week.
The Washington State Department of Transportation reported that 13 people were killed statewide last year in train-related incidents. That’s down from 27 in 2015, which was the most since 2011, when 29 people died.
Thirteen people died on the tracks in 2014, and three have perished after being hit by a train this year.
Two of the 2016 deaths occurred in Pierce County:
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▪ In January, a 53-year-old man was killed near Sumner when struck by an Amtrak train.
▪ In November, a pedestrian was hit and killed by an Amtrak train at the McCarver Street crossing in Tacoma.
State and railroad officials expressed relief that 2016’s numbers were down from the 2015 level, but said even one death is too many.
“The goal is to have zero,” said Gus Melonas, a spokesman for BNSF.
Melonas said BNSF has embarked recently on several campaigns that warn people to be careful around railroad tracks, including partnerships with the Seattle Mariners and Sound Transit.
What’s more, BNSF police have stepped up efforts to intercept people trespassing on railroad property, he said.
“It’s an area of focus,” Melonas said.
Janet Matkin, spokeswoman for the state Transportation Department’s rail division, pointed out that 22 of those killed on the tracks in 2015 were trespassing on railroad property at the time; that is, they were not walking or driving across the tracks at a marked crossing.
The state Transportation Department has embarked on its own safety campaign this year tied to the scheduled opening of the Point Defiance Bypass.
The bypass is a new set of tracks that will route Amtrak trains off a heavily traveled freight line that follows the shoreline around Tacoma’s Point Defiance Park and onto new tracks through the Lakewood area.
The route is expected to shave 10 minutes off the trip from Portland to Seattle, make room for two additional daily round trips and improve reliability.
It also will route high-speed trains through areas frequently traveled by much slower-moving freight trains.
The Transportation Department has been working to get the word out about the new trains and warning people to be careful at rail crossings.
“We know that it’s really important to make them aware of these changes,” Matkin said.
Testing already has begun, and the new line is expected to be open for passenger-rail traffic this fall.