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by John Andrews (revised 4 April 2006)
Each year we suffer 500 rail corridor trespass fatalities in these United States. According to Pamela Caldwell Foggin, Federal Railroad Administration, these fatalities do not include fatalities caused by vehicles passing rail gates, nor do these 500 fatalities include suicides.
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 4,400 mile-years of rail-with-trail (RWT) experience in the United States.
If trails do not increase the danger, then we can expect one rail trespass fatality for every 284 miles per year, then 4,400 mile-year should result in 15 RWT trespass fatalities since the first RWT was opened. If trails increase the risk of pedestrian fatalities, then we might expect many more fatalities. Maybe a ten-fold increase or 150 fatalities in 40 years?
But, have we experienced 150 RWT fatalities? Have we experiences even 15 fatalities? No. In the entire United States, there has never been one RWT fatality.
My probability professor would not give me a failing grade, if I claimed adding trails to rail corridors reduced pedestrian fatalities by 25-to-one.
When I first looked at my math, I felt my math must be wrong. Einstein once told an acquaintance, “If your math does not match your common sense, check your math.” I've asked many people to check my math. Many have rejected my conclusion, but no one has questioned my math.
Assuming the conclusion it valid, or even close to reality, how do we explain it? This troubled me for months after I first ran the numbers and looked at the result. It now makes sense, at least to me.
Whenever people trespass in rail corridors, the walking is generally awful but usually easiest on the rails or rail ties. So kids walk on the rail ties or rails. College students leaving a pub may choose to walk an unlit rail corridor to return to their dorm. Hunters seeking game walk the rails. But, if a well-engineered trail existed beside the tracks, most would apparently choose the easier path. Therefore, it does make sense to me that adding a trail to a rail corridor could reduce fatalities by as much as 25-to-1.
Common wisdom in the rail industry has been that anytime a person enters a rail corridor the risk of a fatality increases. It's obvious to experienced railroad employees that adding a trail and inviting public access should increase the fatalities. Claiming that it will save lives? Crazy! Reading Steven D. Levitt's Freakonomics inspired me to look at existing rail fatality data. Why? Because in his book he demonstrates that common wisdom is often wrong.
Craig Della Penna, well known RWT advocate, asks the rhetorical question: “Could a railroad be successfully sued if it had refused to allow a RWT where subsequently a trespass fatality occurred?” A NYC attorney with railroad litigation experience is interested in the question.
Lead Editorial Reprinted from the Journal Tribune, March 29, 2002
It's a beautiful day. Spring is waking up the birds and trees all around us and the last patches of wet spring snow are disappearing, for now at least.
Of course this means the all-terrain vehicles are returning to our back woods and hillsides, threatening to turn both into noisy, rutted wastelands.
The reputation of ATV riders probably couldn't be much lower than it is right now in Maine. There are reports of riders ignoring and even cutting down "no trespassing" signs, eroding stream banks and treating trails so badly that property owners kick out snowmobiles, too.
Some of the worst offenders are cutting noisily through our own back yard. The Kennebunk Plains conservation area has been damaged and Portland Natural Gas lines endangered by riders who've moved boulders that were supposed to block their way. In Sanford, irresponsible riders have done damage around the industrial park, despite enforcement actions police and the warden service.
A case in point: Last Sunday, a lone ATV rider shot through an intersection on Route 109 near the Center for Shopping and passed cars by traveling on the wrong side of the road, so fast that if drivers had blinked they might not have seen him.
By Jack Beaudoin, Portland Press Herald - Thursday, February 12, 1998
Anybody who has ever tried to bike from Kittery to Portland knows one thing for certain: If you value your life, you can't get there from here.
That's because the world's most pedestrian-unfriendly, bike-unfriendly road - Route 1 - dominates the north-south corridor through York County.
Overburdened by seasonal tourist traffic, narrow through the shoulders, rutted and pot-holed, Route 1 cuts across just about every other road in coastal York County and serves as a real barrier to safe alternative transportation and recreation.
But John Andrews, chairman of Saco Trails, may have found a way around it - the Eastern Trail. In his dream, the Eastern Trail provides a lush, beautiful four-season corridor for cyclists, hikers, inline-skaters, cross-country skiers and snowshoe enthusiasts to travel.
The best thing about Andrews' dream is that the trail already exists.
You might know the Eastern Trail by its old name, the Boston and Maine Eastern Line. Until 1945 - the year it was abandoned - trains ran the 50-mile stretch of the Eastern Line from South Berwick to South Portland. Since then, the line has remained mostly dormant, an overgrown scar cutting across the heart of York County.
But Andrews plans to bring the Eastern Line back to life. Along with Alan Cone of Saco Trails, Dick Roberge of Old Orchard Beach Trails, Tom Daley of the Scarborough Conservation Land Trust and public officials from Saco to South Portland, Andrews has managed to secure almost all the approvals needed to complete the northern edge of the trail from Route 1 in Saco to Bug Light in South Portland.
With that part of the job steaming toward completion, the committee has turned its sights on the southern stretch, from Saco to Dover, N.H.
"I don't see why this can't be done in a matter of years," says Andrews, a 61-year-old semi-retired engineer with a penchant for hiking, biking and cross-country skiing. "I believe if you get a bunch of people together in these southern communities, the trail will happen."
In fact, the speed of the Eastern Trail's development is nothing short of astonishing. Although Daley has been looking into the project's feasibility for 11 years, Andrews and his conservationist friends formed an exploratory committee just about three weeks ago. Since then, Granite State Gas Transmission Inc. (which owns a natural gas pipeline on much of the proposed trail) has enthusiastically signed on to the project, as has the town of Arundel.
"We've already talked a lot about it," says Arundel Planner Roger Cole, who has passed Andrews' plans southwest to Kennebunk planners. "Who wouldn't, with a corridor like that? The Eastern Line is just there for the using."
According to Cole, the Eastern Trail would be a boon to residents and visitors alike. And if Andrews has his way, people could be coming to the state from as far away as Florida. Andrews has been talking to representatives of the East Coast Greenway project, a trail system that someday will connect Bar Harbor to Key West.
Parts of the Greenway, like the Eastern Trail, would be off-limits to motorized vehicles while other stretches would cut through the center of cities like Boston and New York. The more access, the Greenway philosophy goes, the better.
"It's not their intention to make this an Appalachian Trail for bikes," Andrews says. "They want it to go where the people are. And if that means going through cities, so be it."