As in previous decades, Butler County during the past several years has led Ohio in railroad/vehicle crashes, outpacing more populous counties of Cuyahoga (home to Cleveland), Lucas (Toledo), Hamilton (Cincinnati), Wood (Bowling Green) and Summit (Akron).
Statistics for 2017 are not yet available, but during a recent period this decade, 25 Butler County crashes involving trains and vehicles led the state and accounted for 7.9 percent of such wrecks statewide. Following Butler were Cuyahoga and Lucas counties, each with 17; Hamilton, with 14; Wood with 13; and Summit with 12, according to Federal Railroad Administration data.
Butler also leads the state with injuries and deaths of trespassers on tracks, followed by Cuyahoga, Franklin (Columbus), Hamilton and Scioto (Portsmouth) counties.
Meanwhile, Ohio was tied for seventh in the nation (with Florida and Louisiana) for train/vehicle crashes. Leading the country were Texas, California and Illinois, according to the FRA statistics.
That comes as Hamilton considers creating railroad “quiet zones,” in which improvements are made to increase safety at individual railroad crossings — such as signal gates that completely extend across the highway or concrete medians that prevent vehicles from driving around the safety gates — to lessen the need for trains to blow their horns, except when an emergency is imminent.
According to Middletown Public Works Director Scott Tadych, Middletown has no railroad quiet zones.
“I know they were considered years ago,” he said.
Gena Miller Shelton, the state coordinator for Ohio Operation Lifesaver, which works to prevent train crashes and injuries or deaths involving people who shouldn’t be on railroad tracks, said her organization takes no position on the topic of quiet zones.
Operation Lifesafer “has no position on quiet zones, nor do my state agency partners,” Shelton said. “These issues are solely between the community and (Federal Railroad Association). That being said, traditionally Butler County is the top county for incidents in Ohio.”
Meanwhile, both the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio and the FRA have put out recent news releases encouraging local communities to apply for funding to improve the safety of their public rail crossings.
“With over 5,700 public rail grade crossings in Ohio, the PUCO works with local highway authorities and rail companies to ensure that rail operations and infrastructure are safe and in compliance with federal and state regulations,” the PUCO wrote in its November request that communities apply for funding.
The FRA, meanwhile, announced in mid-February that it has $73 million available for rail capital projects, including for improved railroad crossings.