The number of train-related fatalities on or near the nation's rail lines soared in 2013, prompting the railroad industry to initiate a new campaign highlighting the dangers of being near train tracks.
The Associated Press notes that while 2012 was the safest year ever experienced by the nation's railroads, it was followed by a dramatic reversal in 2013. Last year, trespassing deaths rose by 11 percent, to 476, and the number of deaths in accidents increased by 8 percent to 250.
More people using earbuds, smartphones and other electronic devices may be behind the deadly trend.
"We're a distracted population," said Joyce Rose, CEO of Operation Lifesaver, which is devoted to warning the public about railroad hazards. The non-profit calculates that a person or vehicle is struck by a train every three hours.
A campaign aimed at reducing risky accidents begins Tuesday. It stresses that people and vehicles stand no chance against a train. The television commercial, dubbed "See Tracks? Think Train," shows a young man walking on railroad tracks. He's wearing headphones and is oblivious that a train is bearing down.
The public service campaign is backed by the Association of American Railroads trade group, major railroads and the Federal Railroad Administration.
Minnesota has seen its share of rail-related fatalities and injures in the past year. Last month, five people were injured in Owatonna whena driver apparently ignored flashing red lights at a railroad crossing and crashed into a train. In Feburary, a car-train collision in rural Sabin in northwestern Minnesota killed an elderly man and injured his wife. And last August, a 9-year-old St. Paul boy lost both of his feet when he was playing on a slow-moving train, then slipped underneath and was run over.