Butler County deadliest place in Ohio for train incidents

Fatalities at railroad crossings in Ohio more than doubled in 2015.

Butler County has now been the deadliest place in the state for fatal train crashes for more than a decade, according to federal records.

Of the 83 incidents last year across Ohio, eight occurred in Butler County, including one in Middletown that left one dead and 10 injured last summer. The county has also been home to 20 deaths involving either pedestrians or drivers colliding with trains in that time, federal data analyzed by the Journal-News shows.

Impatience and inattention, as well as increased train traffic, appear to be some of the reasons why Ohio’s train/vehicle crash fatality rate saw a sharp increase from 2014 to 2015, experts said.

Fatalities at highway-rail grade crossings in Ohio more than doubled in 2015 and rail trespass casualties (deaths plus injuries) rose as well, according to 2015 Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) statistics and Ohio Operation Lifesaver, a nonprofit rail safety education organization.

“We are concerned with this significant increase in highway-rail grade crossing fatalities,” said Gena Shelton, coordinator of Ohio Operation Lifesaver. “We will continue our work educating Ohioans about the crucial need to obey warning signs and signals at crossings and stay off train tracks. We are actively working with our state and local partners to spread this safety message.”

Fatalities involving trespassers or pedestrians are more likely to involve white men between the ages of 18 to 34, especially if they’re intoxicated, Shelton said. She is currently working on a safety grant focusing on college campuses, including Miami University, with nearby rail lines.

Butler County is home to 121 miles of railroad tracks, most of which are condensed in certain areas such as Middletown or Oxford, which makes the likelihood for accidents higher, according to Julie Kaercher, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Rail Development Commission. Those tracks are also used very frequently by train companies and train traffic has been increasing, she said.

The majority of train/vehicle collisions happen at rail crossings with gates and lights and vehicles “trying to beat trains,” said Matt Schilling, a spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio.

“A train beats a car every time,” he said.

While Ohio rail crossing collisions were down 2.4 percent in 2015 from 2014, to 83; crossing fatalities rose 20 percent to 12; and crossing injuries rose 12.9 percent to 35, according to FRA statistics. Trespass or pedestrian fatalities increased 58.3 percent in 2015 to 19, and trespass injuries fell 5.9 percent from 2014 to 16.

According to the FRA, in 2015 there were 12 deaths at rail crossings in Ohio, which is up from four deaths in 2014.

Ohio does not include rail crossings on private property as part of its statistics, Kaercher said.

The number of suicides at rail crossings also increased in 2015 with 11, which was up from seven in 2014, according to Schilling.

Nationally, vehicle-train collisions and deaths at highway-rail grade crossings fell in 2015, along with injuries to people trespassing on train tracks, while the number of trespassers killed on train tracks rose compared to 2014, as did the number injured as a result of crossing collisions, Shelton said.

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