Deaths among railroad trespassers. The role of alcohol in fatal injuries

JAMA. 1997 Apr 2;277(13):1064-6. doi: 10.1001/jama.277.13.1064.


Objective: To describe the characteristics of persons killed by trains while trespassing (ie, using railroad property for activities unrelated to railroad operations).

Design: Case series obtained from records of the state medical examiner.

Setting: North Carolina, 1990 through 1994.

Subjects: One hundred twenty-eight persons ranging in age from 7 to 84 years who were killed in 125 separate incidents.

Results: Of 224 railroad-related deaths during the study period, 128 cases (57%) involved trespassers. Trespasser fatalities typically involved unmarried male pedestrians 20 to 49 years of age with less than a high school education. Eighty-two percent of incidents occurred in the trespassers' county of residence, indicating that few deaths involved transients. Fatalities among railroad trespassers exhibited both geographic and temporal clustering. Seventy-eight percent of trespassers were killed while intoxicated (median alcohol level, 56 mmol/L [260 mg/dL]).

Conclusions: Deaths among trespassers are the leading cause of railroad-related mortality in North Carolina. Greater efforts are needed to reduce this type of preventable injury. Prevention of trespasser fatalities is dependent on control of alcohol abuse, enforcement of existing laws, and education of the public regarding the dangers of railroad trespassing.

MeSH terms

  • Accidents / mortality*
  • Accidents / statistics & numerical data
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alcoholic Intoxication
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • North Carolina / epidemiology
  • Railroads* / legislation & jurisprudence
  • Railroads* / statistics & numerical data