California celebrates 7th annual September Rail Safety Month

Written by Kyra Senese, managing editor
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LACMTA Safety Ambassador Toni Harrell greets people as they exit a station.

California Operation Lifesaver (CAOL) is offering free safety presentations to motorists and pedestrians statewide in honor of the seventh annual Rail Safety Month.


The California state legislature distinguished September as Rail Safety Month in 2009, and officials say the state ranks first in trespass casualties and second for grade-crossing incidents in the U.S. 

California saw 145 trespass casualties in 2015, including 98 fatalities, a nearly 8 percent increase in fatalities from 2014. The number of grade-crossing incidents also went up 15.6 percent during the same time period.

Nancy Sheehan, the CAOL state coordinator, says a train collides with a person or vehicle about every three hours.

Operation Lifesaver is working to change pedestrians’ behaviors near railway tracks and crossings through the organization’s national public awareness campaign, See Tracks? Think Train!

“These trespass and grade crossing incidents have devastating effects on families and communities,” Sheehan said. “As a part of Operation Lifesaver’s mission to reduce deaths and injuries around trains, we urge the public to follow the laws, obey the signs and signals, never walk on the tracks and avoid distractions near railroad tracks.”

During September’s Rail Safety Month, CAOL volunteers plan to spread their organization’s message by visiting schools, presenting to members of law enforcement and community groups and addressing other residents, as well.

CAOL has also scheduled a billboard advertising campaign for the month, which is said to focus on raising trespass awareness, utilizing an Operation Lifesaver/Federal Railroad Administration grant. The campaign will include 30 billboards that are set to run in both English and Spanish in the Los Angeles and Riverside counties.

CAOL will also run a digital advertising campaign stressing grade-crossing safety awareness at major sporting events in professional sports venues across the state. Funding for the digital advertising efforts is provided by an Operation Lifesaver/Federal Highway Administration grant.

Representatives say that additional rail safety awareness efforts will be made possible while working with CAOL’s Rail Safety Partners at the state, county and local levels.

Caltrain, one of CAOL’s many community partners and California’s commuter rail line, is focusing on promoting rail safety near at-grade crossings, considering the recent spikes in danger at these areas.

Representatives for Caltrain say the company plans to launch a new rail safety public service announcement emphasizing motorist safety throughout September. Caltrain officials say the agency plans to begin a new Grade Crossing Awareness Public Safety program with the San Mateo County Sheriff Office’s Transit Police Bureau and is encouraging community members to share their safety tips on Twitter using the hashtag: #CaltrainSafe.

The agency also says it intends to enhance its grade crossings during the next year, which will entail installing roadway medians in front of gate arms, painting new pavement markings and revamping signage.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (SCVTA) has also announced a Youth Outreach Program to instill rail safety lessons among young motorists and pedestrians early on.

SCVTA offers a “Stay Safe, Stay Alive” brochure that details safety tips for walking, biking and driving near the light rail system’s operations, officials say.

“The public, the media and statewide local communities can help raise awareness and grow the message by avoiding dangerous behavior around railroad tracks,” Sheehan said. “We urge the public to Share the See Tracks? Think Train! message with family, friends and in their communities. We all need to work together to save lives.” 

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