By Tasha Bartholomew, @tashbart

Earlier this month, I had the opportunity to meet with other railroad professionals from around the world who all seemed to share one common safety concern – how to prevent people from endangering themselves on the tracks.

Nearly 300 industry professionals from all over the United States, United Kingdom and Canada voyaged to Charlotte, N.C. for a three-day Right Of Way Fatality & Trespass Prevention Workshop hosted by the Federal Railroad Administration from Aug. 4-6.

“Fatalities by rail are a shared and serious problem around the world,” said attendee Ian Stevens, who is the Program Manager of Suicide Prevention at Network Rail in the U.K.  “The rail industry operates through the very heart of communities devastated by suicides and these events impact deeply on our own people, too.”

The goal of the workshop was to identify and share existing industry best practices as it relates to ROW fatality and trespass prevention.

According to the FRA, trespassing along the railroad right of way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Nationally, more than 500 trespass fatalities and nearly as many injuries occur each year. The vast majority of these incidents are preventable.

The workshop focused on five areas of interest: Pedestrian Safety Issues; Community Outreach & Education; Design, Technology and Infrastructure; Enforcement; and Intentional Deaths/Acts.

The workshop also included breakout sessions where smaller groups gathered to explore new trespass abatement and mitigation strategies that the rail industry can pursue in an effort to reduce the number of right of way and trespasser incidents and fatalities.

Some of the ideas that came out of the breakout sessions included:

  • Pedestrian Safety Issues – organizing community pedestrian safety workshops.
  • Community Outreach & Education – targeting national associations to raise trespass awareness.
  • Design, Technology and Infrastructure – creating a standardized system of train engineer data collection and reporting for things such as near misses, trespassers, etc.
  • Enforcement – developing a federal law for trespassing that could be passed on to the state level for potential adoption.
  • Intentional Deaths/Acts – developing rail specific media guidelines on how to cover suicides.

While there were many more great suggestions that came out of the workshop, I do believe taking a fresh look at an old problem was a good start.  And it was interesting to learn that no matter what rail agency you work for, whether it’s Caltrain in the Peninsula or SunRail in the Greater Orlando, Fla. region, we all share the same safety concern – keeping people off the railroad tracks.


  1. Did you learn anything about how we can replace the excessive horn blowing between Millbrae and San Mateo that actually provides improved safety? The number of deaths in that section has not decreased yet trains have gotten louder and louder.

    • You may notice an increase in the amount of horn noise through that section for two reasons: 1) Caltrain is seeing more and more illegal trespassing by both pedestrians and vehicles on its tracks, engineers sound the horn to warn to move off the tracks. 2) Caltrain has increased the number of trains it operates to 92 weekday trains.

      However, the decibel level of the horns is fixed and has not been adjusted. The FRA requires that all rail agencies blow horns as to warn pedestrians and vehicles as they pass through crossings and any time they see a person on or near the tracks that is in danger of being impacted by a train.

      The Union Pacific also operates freight trains through the corridor. They have separate policies for the location of their horns, which can give the impression that they are louder than a Caltrain. They also operate both during the day and overnight, increasing the total amount of rail traffic on the corridor.

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