Rails-with-Trails far safer than just Rails

In Missouri there are several interesting opportunities for Rails with Trails projects--trails built adjoining active rail lines. 

Rail with Trail on the Great Aleghenny Passage
Rail with Trail on the Great Aleghenny Passage

The objection to these facilities is naturally that they will increase the danger of accidents on the rail line--won't they?

According to recent research on rails with trails in the U.S., the answer is a resounding no. In fact, trails along the rail lines actually improve safety by a very considerable amount:

According to Betsy Goodrich, New England Office of Rail-to-Trails Conservancy, there are 142,000 miles of active rail corridor in the United States. This means 500 fatalities per year per 142,000 miles. Or one trespass fatality for each 284 mile-years.

Using data provided by Mia Birk, senior author of Rail-with-Trails, Lessons Learned, we learn that we have 4,000 mile-years of rail-with-trail (RWT) experience in the United States.

If we can expect one rail trespass fatality for every 284 miles per year, then 4,000 mile-year should result in 14 RWT trespass fatalities since the first RWT was opened.

But, have we experienced 14 RWT fatalities? No. In the entire United States, there has been just one RWT fatality. That fatality occurred near Anchorage, when someone, described by Ms. Foggin as attempting to hop a freight, was killed. This was not a trail user, but the fatality happened in a RWT corridor.

I must conclude that adding trails to rail corridors has, by experience, reduced rail trespass fatalities by more than 90%.

Incidentally, according to the accompanying table of rails-with-trails in the U.S., there are three rails-with-trails segments in Iowa, two in Illinois, and one each in Kansas and Arkansas, but none in Missouri yet.

More information:

Photo Credit: Rail with Trail on the Great Alleghenny Passage, credit Rails-to-Trails Conservancy

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