Of all the bad news we encountered during the first days of January, the worst, and the most preventable, was the report of an accident in Amtrak's Northeast Corridor, when a 14-year old girl who had been walking on the tracks was struck and killed by a southbound train just north of Baltimore.
The news came to our attention because it led to travel delays in a busy market at a time when all news outlets were on high alert for any irregularities affecting transportation, but such accidents are far too common, and too often overlooked.
We have thousands of at-grade railroad/highway crossings in this country, where accidents claimed 204 lives during the first three quarters of 2009, according to the Federal Railroad Administration. On top of that, accidents involving people who were trespassing on the tracks claimed another 370 lives during that period.
This is a higher death toll than commercial aviation. In fact, sloppy railroad safety practices claimed more lives on U.S. soil last year than terrorists.
If 500 people had been killed last year by wandering onto airport runways, you would have heard about it, and something would have been done about it by now.
But railroads for some reason are different. People have been walking on railroad tracks, and parents have been telling their children not to, since the 19th century, and the problem persists.
In a perfect world, it would not be possible to merely stroll out onto the railroad tracks, but we'd settle for merely a better world where it would be a lot harder than it is now.
There are long stretches of track throughout the country with no pedestrian barriers at all. Fences, where they exist, are often in disrepair.
If the Obama administration still has some stimulus money to throw around, it could throw some here.