Train Track Fatalities Climb In North San Diego County
The number of people killed on the train tracks that run along the coast from Oceanside to San Diego has almost doubled this year over last year.
Fourteen people died after being hit by trains traveling on the coastal line this year, up from eight last year. The total number of accidents on the North County rail line along the coast and the Sprinter light rail line that runs east to Escondido was 22. The accidents involved Coaster, Amtrack, BNSF and Sprinter trains.
As the number of trains increases, the North County Transit District and communities up and down the coast are considering how to improve safety.
Only two accidents happened in San Diego on the Coaster rail line, and neither was fatal.
Sean Loofbourrow, Chief of Safety and Security for the North County Transit District, said almost all of the accidents were in North County because the tracks are not often fenced in that area. People also cross the tracks to get to the beach.
“All those numbers have been increasing,” Loofbourrow said. “We haven’t really seen a pattern on why, but this isn’t just locally, this is a national trend where they’re seeing an increase number of strike incidents and fatalities across the railroads and we’re all kind of getting together to figure out what that is.”
An electronic campaign began recently in Oceanside and Carlsbad, Loofbourrow said.
“If people are on their apps on their iPhone,” he said, “If they are within a certain geographic area, they’re going to get ads for California Operation Life Saver. So it’s like a passive education system, where if they click on it, we can track who’s using it and there’s a series of slides and educational information that they can use.”
The San Diego Association of Governments is working to add a second track to the coastal line which will allow trains to pass each other without stopping, and that work is more than 60 percent complete. The number of trains travelling up and down the coast is expected to double by 2030, which is expected to ease traffic gridlock on Interstate 5.
There is fencing at the train stations, but in between the stations there is some chain link fencing and long stretches of unfenced train tracks. Loofbourrow said budget for fencing is an issue, however, he said some communities do not want fencing because people cross the tracks to get to the beach.
“There’s a discussion that needs to happen with those communities,” he said, “to say, ’hey, we’re going to put up some fencing,’ and there’s been some significant push back.”
The sheriff’s department and the Oceanside Police Department have the authority to ticket people found trespassing on the tracks. But in some places, such as below 10th Street in Del Mar, surfers and beach walkers regularly cross the tracks to get to a trail down to the beach.
Loofbourough showed a video taken this week of two young men on the crossing in Carlsbad who watched the train approach until it was almost upon them and then jumped out of the way. The driver of the train applied the breaks but the train did not stop till well beyond the crossing.
Oceanside saw the highest number of fatalities: seven people died on the tracks there in 2017. Four accidents happened in Encinitas, and two each in Carlsbad, Del Mar, Vista and San Diego.
One of the accidents on the coastal line involved a vehicle, but Loofbourrow said it was not due to faulty crossing equipment, it was due to poor judgement on the part of the driver.
Three accidents occurred on the Sprinter light rail line to Escondido but none was fatal.
“I don’t like going out to these incidents,” Loofbourrow said. “I don’t like seeing the results of this, not only for the unfortunate person involved in this incident, but also hundreds, or even thousands of people that are disrupted from their commute.”