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California railroad accident: Two couples hit while taking pictures of sunset

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Jeff Roberson/AP/File

(Read caption) An Amtrak train passes a crossing amid Illinois cornfields in this file photo. Railroad safety, particularly for pedestrians, is a mounting concern.

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One woman was killed and two others were injured when two couples walked onto a railroad trestle to take pictures of the sunset Saturday evening in southern California, according to local reports. A train came around the corner and three of the four people could not run fast enough to escape, writes KSBY News.

The case comes as some evidence points to a rise in pedestrian train accidents nationwide. A 2013 investigation by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch found that fatal pedestrian train accidents had increased 25 percent in the first eight months of the year compared with the same period in 2012.

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Saturday’s tragedy, which happened about 20 west of Santa Barbara, Calif., points to the difficulty of making railroad tracks safer. Fencing off railroad tracks is often impractical, especially in areas that are not naturally high-traffic pedestrian zones. The trestle where the accident took place Saturday was located in a rural area just north of Refugio State Beach.

The primary causes of train accidents involving pedestrians and motorists involve poor judgment, according to Operation Lifesaver, a rail safety education group. They include:

  • Grossly misjudging the speed of an oncoming train.
  • Trying to beat a train across the tracks.
  • Becoming distracted by talking on a cellphone, texting, or listening to loud music.
  • A pedestrian or motorist being intoxicated.
  • Someone becoming “too familiar” with a crossing and not heeding warning signs.
  • Walking or driving onto tracks immediately after one train has passed without looking for a train coming from the other direction.

The train involved in Saturday’s accident was traveling at the correct speed, according to the KSBY report. One woman died at the scene and the second sustained moderate injuries. One man sustained major injuries and was airlifted to a hospital and the second was not hit by the train.