Cuba warns of rising rail danger, faster trains

A railroad upgrade project in Cuba has trains traveling faster and that means more danger for careless motorists and pedestrians, authorities said Monday, reporting 33 collisions involving cars and 47 pedestrians hit last year.

An article in labor union newspaper Trabajadores did not say how many of the vehicular crashes were fatal, but 30 of the people hit by trains died. That alone was about 50 percent more than the 19 deaths from all train-related accidents reported the previous year.

The trend appears to be worsening, with 27 pedestrian accidents in just the first three months of 2012, including 10 fatalities.

This Caribbean island's state-run media are mercifully free of grisly stories about crashes and violent crime that are common in newspapers elsewhere, and accidents generally go unreported until officials give a yearly tally.

But Trabajadores carried accounts of impatient and inattentive drivers being mowed down, including a motorcyclist who tried to race across the tracks and an animal cart that failed to stop for a passenger train.

Many crossings here lack descending barriers, and not all drivers come to a full stop and look both ways as they are supposed to.

Ronald Bofil, director of rail safety and inspection for the Ministry of Transportation, said a national campaign to overhaul Cuban railroads means the trains themselves are operating more safely, but efforts to improve signaling have not resulted in motorists reforming their own bad habits.

"On the tracks today, the (safety) measures must be extreme. With the current revitalization of the railways, the trains are gradually reaching greater velocities," Bofil told Trabajadores.

"Nevertheless, many drivers and pedestrians ignore the danger inherent in crossing train tracks even when they see the locomotive approaching."

Bofil also said collisions with free-ranging cattle is a significant problem that joint efforts with the Agriculture Ministry has yet to solve.

He did not give numbers on incidents involving livestock.