Czech railroads see highest number of deaths in four years

Foto: Drážní inspekce ČR

The Rail Safety Inspection Office has revealed a sharp rise in the number of deaths on Czech railroads: in the first three months alone, 68 people died on Czech tracks - 15 of those at crossings where drivers or pedestrians failed to heed barriers or warning lights.

Fifteen deaths is a dramatic increase in the number of fatalities at Czech railway crossings and a figure that has shocked safety specialists: a jump of 650 percent since 2007. The number one cause in such accidents? Negligence, as drivers or pedestrians fail to heed warning signals and even lowered barriers, at their own risk. Images of drivers cutting across the path of oncoming trains, sometimes weaving among lowered barriers, are nothing uncommon. Observers say that drivers fail to respect the law or to appreciate the danger of their actions. Václav Špička is a road safety specialist for the Czech Auto Club:

“Drivers should realise that trains have a braking distance of several hundred metres and weigh many tons: there is nothing that a train driver can do even when he sees a car on the tracks.”

The deputy head of the Rail Safety Inspection Office, Jan Kučera, says the independent body will push for a greater number of barriers to be introduced at crossings around the country:

“Drivers think twice about trying to drive through lowered barriers, they are more likely to stop and wait. When you have crossings without barriers, drivers are much more willing to take risks. If every crossing had a barrier it would dramatically lower the number of accidents and the number of people killed.”

According to available statistics, the Czech Republic has more than 8,000 railway crossings but only roughly 9 percent of those have mechanical barriers. The Czech Rail Safety Inspection would like to see the number of barriers increased and - together with the Transport Ministry - will be investigating crossings throughout the country for possible revisions.

The two would also like to tackle an equally grim problem: the number of pedestrians killed on the tracks. Forty-nine of those died in the first three months of this year – also a record amount. Cutting across the tracks or walking along them to shorten one’s path are common enough with obvious deadly consequences, not least when alcohol or listening to music on a personal player are a factor.