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No changes to be made at site of fatal train incident

Final reports on a fatal train accident in Washington County last year show the cause as the victim trespassing on railroad property, and no additional safety measures will be added to the site.

Marietta resident Michael Douglas, 52, died after being struck by a CSX freight train.

On June 3, 2019, Douglas was working for the Washington County Engineer’s office about nine miles north of Marietta in Oak Grove. His crew stopped for lunch in a clearing on the Muskingum River when he decided to walk on the tracks.

“It was a really horrific accident,” said Washington County Engineer Roger Wright. “It was a really tragic day.”

Two final reports were made regarding the accident. The Washington County Sheriff’s Office produced a 39-page report that detailed the incident, while CSX had a short report that was submitted to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The sheriff’s office determined it was an accident caused by Douglas trespassing on railroad property. The train was not able to stop in time and Douglas had nowhere to go to escape being hit.

A freedom of information request was sent to the Federal Railroad Administration, but the response was that they had little to no information on the incident.

Timothy Barkley, public liaison with the Federal Railroad Administration, said they do not investigate train accidents, but the information provided by CSX could be found on FRA’s website.

“Reported by CSX Transportation with a probable cause determined to be trespassing,” noted the CSX investigation report. “A trespasser, age 52, suffered a fatality. The person was struck by on-track equipment. The event occurred at/near freight train – moving while on bridge/trestle.”

A representative from CSX said no additional safety measures or changes were made by the company, as the collision was due to Douglas walking on the tracks, which is against the law.

Railroad tracks are sometimes photographically romanticized, but they are still a safety hazard.

“People want to take photos on the railroad tracks, not realizing how dangerous the situation is,” said Alan Stouder, state coordinator for Ohio Operation Life Saver, a nonprofit organization dedicated to rail safety education. “It’s not only dangerous, but illegal.”

He said people sometimes walk the tracks distracted or with headphones on, which amplifies the danger. Trains no longer make the “clickety clack” sound they once did to alert pedestrians, he said.

Wright said since the accident, there has been a “re-dedication to safety” in his office. There have been more discussions about safety and situational awareness, he said.

“We miss Mike and wish he were here today,” Wright said of the 10-year employee of the engineer’s office.

The CSX representative said about every three hours, someone is hit or killed by a train in the U.S.

“That’s staggering to think about,” she said.

Stouder said the only answer to stop tragic accidents like these is to stay off railroad tracks.

“Once you see a train, it’s too late,” he explained. “A 100-car freight train going 50 to 55 miles per hour takes a mile, mile and a half to stop. That’s about the length of 18 football fields.”

He said most of the time, the train is only going 30 to 35 miles an hour, but the engine alone on the train is 350,000 pounds.

Ohio is showing some progress in certain areas of train safety, but the state is still in the top 15 worst states for pedestrian/trespasser and highway-rail crossing incidents, he noted.

“Pedestrian/trespassing incidents has Ohio ranked #11, with 30 total, a decrease of 3.2 percent from 2018’s total of 31,” he said. “That includes 14 injuries, a decrease of 6.7 percent from 2018, and 16 fatalities.”

There were also 16 fatalities in 2018, he said.

Michele Newbanks can be reached at mnewbanks@mariettatimes.com.

At a glance:

• Michael Douglas, 52, of Marietta, was killed almost a year ago.

• He was struck by a CSX freight train nine miles north of Marietta.

• It is illegal to trespass on railroad property.

• There were 16 fatalities in Ohio in 2019 by pedestrians trespassing on railroad property.

Source: Times research.

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