How safe is NC train travel?

How safe is NC train travel? (Image 1)

For the last two years, North Carolina trains have led the nation in both revenue and ridership growth. Nearly a million passengers go through the state each year, as well as millions of dollars in goods.

Amtrak and the North Carolina Department of Transportation run these trains along more than 3,000 miles of track across the state.

“We'd like to think of our stations as economic sparkplugs,” said Allan Paul, who oversees the railways for the NCDOT. In addition to economic benefits for towns with stations, Paul said train travel has its advantages for passengers.

“First of all, it's relaxing,” Paul said. “We like to think it's a lot less hassle.”

And riders agree.

WNCN rode along on a day trip provided by the NCDOT from Raleigh to Charlotte and back. Along the way, passengers Mark Pinckney from Greensboro and Melissa Good from Durham agreed that the train provided a “stress-free” ride.

Paula Andrinopoulos, who was traveling from Raleigh to visit her parents, went further saying train travel is “less expensive than flying and a little bit more convenient.”

But is travelling by train as safe as flying?

In recent years, security experts have warned that terrorists have shifted focus from the air to the ground. So far, attacks have been overseas; but last April, the FBI and Canadian authorities stopped a suspected terror plot targeting passenger trains heading to the United States.

Law enforcement sources also say authorities are now keeping a closer eye on a growing threat of rail sabotage across the country.

Since the terror attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, the hassle to get on a plane has grown, but the process to get on a train hasn't become quite as stringent.

“You don't have to go through metal detectors,” said Graham resident Maiya Reaves, who was riding the train to Charlotte.

Dave Skergan, who was on a day trip to Charlotte from Raleigh, added, “Just walk on [and] grab a seat.”

Passenger Will Newman, from High Point, said he even arrived at the station just 10 minutes before the train pulled away, and that he didn't have a problem boarding.

The state's rail safety consultant, Nelson High, is quick to point out that railways also present a unique security challenge.

“You cannot fence it,” High said. “And you cannot provide the same security that other entities would do because you can't do that.”

To ensure train safety, High said the NCDOT allows law enforcement as well as Rapid Response Teams from other security agencies to train on the equipment for possible attacks.

“They come in with their equipment and their expertise and know how to mitigate these incidents and bring them under control quickly,” High explained.

And the NCDOT's Allan Paul said they take other precautions.

“There is a traveling metal detector. We do spot-checking,” Paul said. “We also take drug-sniffing and bomb-sniffing dogs onboard the trains.”

When asked if those measures were enough, Paul said, “Our record speaks from itself, and that's nationwide.”

The numbers back Paul's claim up. In recent decades, one person in the entire United States has died from an extremist rail attack.

Paul said so far, North Carolina has been very fortunate. However, he added that all it would take is “one or two events that were significant” that might require additional security measures.

Most casualties involving trains in North Carolina actually come from people illegally crossing the tracks. You can learn more about the NCDOT's BeRailSafe program designed to fight this problem here.


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