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Evaluation of Rail Trespasser Warning Systems


According to the Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Safety Analysis, approximately70 percent of all railroad-related deaths in the United States are the result of trespassing and suicide (FRA, 2017). In the European Union (EU), the comparable number is 89 percent (ERA, 2016). Nationally, more than 400 people died every year in the United States as a result of railroad trespassing and on average, two people are killed or injured while trespassing on rail right-of-way every day (FRA, 2013). Varied methods have been implemented to prevent trespassing and suicide. These include behavioral interventions and technical countermeasures. Rail trespasser warning system is one of the technical countermeasures. There are different existing or potential rail trespasser warning systems; their effects and scopes of implementation, however, have not been thoroughly evaluated. The unclear effectiveness and range of applications of these systems will provide limited, if not misleading, information to the decision makers when choosing the appropriate systems to implement. Therefore, there is a need to systemically examine relevant rail trespasser warning systems.


(1) identify potential technologies and existing systems that can warn trespassers along rights-of-way or at rail stations of oncoming trains and identify advance warning systems to the railway staff of potential trespasser or suicide so they can stop the train in time;

(2) evaluate the scope of application as well as the effectiveness of the identified technologies and systems;

(3) develop guidance on selecting appropriate warning systems or combined systems based on different needs and conditions.


Effective Rail trespasser warning systems help identify and warn people they are in a dangerous location and in immediate harm. The results of the proposed research would serve as a comprehensive resource for searching for effective rail trespasser warning systems and guide in making decisions on what systems to implement based on needs. Identification of the favorable systems will help ensure that limited funding is directed to the most effective means in reducing injuries and fatalities in rail trespass and suicide.

Related Research:

There is a limited amount of existing research available examining systems to provide warnings and alerts to people trespassing on rail rights-of-way and/or warnings to the rail staff prior to an imminent strike by on-track equipment. The U.S. Department of Transportation’s Volpe National Transportation Systems Center conducted a 3-year demonstration of an automated prototype rail infrastructure security system on a railroad bridge in Pittsford, New York (DaSilva et al., 2006; DaSilva, 2011). The system was a video-based trespass monitoring and deterrent system that detected trespass event, trigged audible and visual signals to the local monitoring workstations, issue a real-time warning to the trespassers via pole-mounted speakers, and call the local police and the railroad police. The system was evaluated over a 3-year period after installation. The system detected nearly 4,000 events or 4.6 events per day. A significant drop in the trespassing rate was clearly seen in Year 2 (60% reduction), however, the trend did not continue in to the third year although the rate in Year 3 did reduced by 17% compared to Year 1. It was also noted in the research that large animals triggered many of the alarms, and it would be difficult to mask without compromising the system’s detection capabilities. With great advances in machine learning in recent years, a more precise detection of human beings and significant reductions in false alarms could possibly be achieved.

There are varied technologies available to provide surveillance and warning systems to railroad trespassers. Examples includes the Platform Track Intrusion Detection System (PTIDS) and the Railway Level Crossing Safety Detection and Warning System developed by Honeywell which use radar technology for platform safety and level crossing safety (Honeywell, 2018), the closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras (also known as video surveillance) combined with sound warnings, megaphones, flashcams, infrared illuminator, and automatic vehicle location (AVL), etc.

A handful of vendors (Protran/Harsco) have developed proprietary systems to provide warnings to on-track rail workers to avoid employee casualties. Employee related warning systems offer many lessons to be learned that can be applied to developing effective trespass warning systems.

Besides technologies, the Federal Transit Administration and Mishara (FTA, 2013; Mishara, 2007) believed that for surveillance systems to be effective, trained personnel and video monitor observers would be required. Without enough workers to monitor the video screens and dispatch help or notify train drivers in time, the surveillance systems would be deemed less useful.

With newer technologies being available in image detection, radar, LIDAR, infrared, and so on, it is necessary and urgent to conduct a systemic evaluation of such technologies to be used in detecting and warning trespassers as well as giving advance warnings to rail staff and train operators. Meanwhile, evaluating the effectiveness of the different technologies, systems and their scopes of application is imperative to help guiding better decision making in selecting the appropriate systems to implement.


The following are some, but not a comprehensive list of, tasks that could be taken under this project:

(1) identify a full range of available rail trespasser warning systems and emerging technologies that can be used in combination to develop such warning systems, with evidence on how the new technologies can be used;

(2) investigate existing warning systems used in other similar areas (e.g., rail employee warning system) that can potentially be transferred to rail trespasser warning systems;

(3) comprehensively evaluate the effectiveness of existing and new rail warning systems in reducing trespass activities and suicide;

(4) investigate the circumstances under which the varied systems and/or technologies are most applicable, including but not limited to funding considerations, environmental characteristics, etc.;

(5) provide guidance to decision-makers on choosing the appropriate warning systems.


The research can assist the rail industry, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, AASHTO Rail Council, and relevant stakeholders in selecting and implementing appropriate and the most cost-effective rail trespasser warning systems as well as emerging technologies. The research team should demonstrate the experience of working with, or having the contacts with, relevant rail industry, technology companies and government agencies in acquiring the technical specs and data needed to carry out the evaluation.


The research can be of interests to Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, AASHTO Rail Council, and rail industries. The investigation of emerging technologies in developing rail trespasser warning systems, under the scope of this research, may be appropriate for MS or Ph.D. research.

Sponsoring Committee:AR080, Highway/Rail Grade Crossings
Research Period:24 - 36 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Stephen Laffey, Jeff Warner, Shanshan Zhao, Robert Rescot
Date Posted:09/10/2018
Date Modified:10/01/2018
Index Terms:Railroad facilities, Trespassers, Warning systems, Pedestrian safety, Pedestrians,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Public Transportation
Safety and Human Factors

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