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Thursday, November 23 2017 @ 10:51 AM UTC

Pedestrian Deaths on Railroad Tracks: The Failure of Design Part 2

Biking Elsewhere[B' Spokes: The following letter (written to a Baltimore Sun reporter) is interesting as it makes a case that fencing to keep trespasser at bay is not the answer but accommodations for pedestrians is the answer.]
By Greg Hinchliffe

I had occasion to think of you as I enjoyed a vacation bicycling in Europe this summer, but it was not because the superb bicycle accommodations and cooperative drivers we encountered were relevant to the supportive writing you have done in your column. No, it was because our travel included a Eurailpass, and we traveled extensively on the Deutsche-Bahn, the amazing German state rail system. Our trips on the high-speed ICE trains reminded me of your passionate writing in support of fences and education after the unfortunate death of the teen-aged girl struck by an Acela train while walking on the Amtrak tracks near Essex.

The thing that struck me about this extensive rail network built amidst a densely populated country, was the almost total lack of fences! Two hundred mile-per-hour trains whoosh by trails, yards, and country lanes, separated from them only by a couple of meters of grass. Unaccompanied children ride their bikes on paths alongside trains far faster and quieter than anything in the US. There were fences alongside pastures to keep livestock off the tracks, and there were noise-barriers in some of the towns, but for the most part, the fences along the tracks were short and/or ornamental, or not there at all. There was even an unfenced spread of grass separating the high-speed tracks from a skateboard park. A skateboard park! Can you think of a location more likely to foster mischief and foolishness?

No doubt this is possible because of extensive education of adults and children alike regarding the dangers of getting too close to the tracks, something for which you have rightly advocated, but I think there is more to it. The reason none of the German citizenry strays off the path onto the tracks is because the path is there in the first place. It isn’t necessary to walk or bike on or near the tracks to get from one place to another, because there is an extensive trail network connecting everything to everything else. They don’t have to walk on the Amtrak tracks to get from Middle River to the school, or along the Light Rail tracks to get from Riderwood to Lutherville. Wouldn’t it be better if we had trails in those two locations, complete with over- and/or under-passes where necessary and, yes, some fences as well? I think this would keep people out of danger more effectively than just bigger fences and more emphatic signs.

This one of the reasons I am such an advocate for “Rails with Trails”. An extensive trail system, including trails along the corridors of active rail and transit lines not only reduces the demand for walking or biking on or near the tracks to get somewhere, but replaces the “attractive nuisance” of the train tracks with the “more attractive benefit” of a trail right next to them. The Rails-to-Trails Conservancy has published several studies regarding Rail-with Trail. I think it’s something MTA and other agencies should explore

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