Every year, dozens of Canadians are killed in preventable railway accidents, while many others are seriously injured.
This past week, April 24 to 30, during national Rail Safety Week, railway operators took the opportunity to remind people of the importance of exercising caution around railways in order to prevent future deaths and injuries.
“Given the number of preventable trespassing incidents in 2016, this week serves as a useful reminder to be safe, aware and vigilant around railway tracks and property,” said Salem Woodrow, media relations advisor with Canadian Pacific (CP) rail.
Rail safety is especially important in a community like Stettler that has many railway crossings, explained Shawn Smith, a board member for Alberta Prairie Railway who also acts as the organization’s safety advisor.
Whereas railway crossings in urban areas usually include automatic protection features such as gates and bells, many of the crossings in the County of Stettler are passive crossings, meaning that they are not protected by gates.
“It’s really important from a public safety perspective that motorists are paying attention at these crossings,” Smith said.
This is something that people should be aware of, no matter what time of day, he added.
“We can take for granted that, especially around Stettler, trains only run at certain times,” Smith said.
In reality, however, this is not how trains operate.
“Any time of day or night, one should always expect the movement of trains,” Smith continued.
Another safety concern for a place like Stettler is trespassing.
“There’s an inherent danger in trespassing,” Smith commented.
To add to the danger, many people who trespass on railways are not fully aware of what’s going on around them.
“A lot of people will use a personal entertainment device, and they can’t necessarily hear a train coming,” Smith said.
While railway accidents occur every year in Canada, Smith pointed out that rail transport in itself is not the real danger.
“Part of rail safety from an operator’s perspective is trying to get the message out to the public that rail transportation in itself is a safe mode of transportation,” he said. “Even on a small railroad like Alberta Prairie Railway, people are trained and certified and highly qualified to do their jobs.”
Over the past few years, the number of railway fatalities recorded in Canada has been on the decline.
In 2015, the most recent year for which statistics have been made available, the Transportation Safety Board of Canada recorded a total of 46 rail fatalities, which presented a decrease from the five-year average of 83 fatalities per year.
The majority of these fatalities were the result of trespassing incidents, while the rest were the result of accidents at railway crossings.