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Effectiveness and Impacts of Rail Anti-Trespass Education


Rail trespassing (away from crossings) accounts for approximately 44% of U.S. rail deaths (61% of Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) reported “Total Fatalities”). The primary countermeasure for trespassing has been education and awareness of the risks and illegality of crossing or otherwise using the tracks, except at designated, legal crossings. The FRA and the rail industry support Operation Lifesaver. Inc. (OLI), whose primary goal is to inform the public of the dangers of pedestrian use of railroad property. From the OLI website:

Today Operation Lifesaver's network of authorized volunteer speakers and trained instructors offer free rail safety education programs across the U.S. We speak to school groups, driver education classes, community audiences, professional drivers, law enforcement officers, and emergency responders. Our programs are co-sponsored by federal, state and local government agencies, highway safety organizations and America's railroads. Together we promote the three E's - education, enforcement and engineering - to keep people safe around the tracks and railway crossings within our communities_.

While education has been the primary trespassing countermeasure used, there is little empirical evidence that education about the risks of trespassing has any lasting effect on trespassing behavior. This research project will attempt to quantify the initial impact of anti-trespassing education and then to follow-up on a later date to see if the effects are long lasting.

Depending on the results of the research, resources may be increased (or diverted to other anti-trespassing countermeasures). It is likely that this research will only be descriptive of the effectiveness of the behavior modification of trespassing , for the chosen mode of education on the chosen group of trespassers. It is unlikely to provide stand-alone evidence of cost-benefit analysis or to be generalized to other modes of education and groups of trespassers. It may, however serve as an example to future researchers in their study of rail trespassing countermeasures’ effectiveness in deterring trespassing behavior.


To determine, empirically, the effects that anti-trespassing education and awareness have on short-term and long-term behavior of pedestrians along the railroad rights-of-way and to assess any displacement of rail safety issues (e.g., crossing or suicide related impacts).


A substantial amount of the resources applied to curtail trespassing behavior (media, volunteer hours, and other) are devoted to informing the public of the dangers of unsafe behavior around trains. Quantifying the effectiveness of pedestrian education will help determine if more investment should be made in awareness campaigns and potentially which types of education are most effective. (For purposes of this Research Needs Statement, awareness campaigns mean any communication intended to reduce illegal and/or unsafe behavior around trains.) If, on the other hand, the effectiveness is low, the resources devoted to rail pedestrian education may be used to revise existing strategies or potentially be re-assigned to enforcement or other proven countermeasures.

Related Research:

In “Introducing experiment in pedestrian behaviour and risk perception study at urban level crossing”, Barić, et al. found: Survey data and field observations were collected to identify reasons for risky behaviour. Behaviour was observed under normal conditions and in the presence of various safety measures in order to identify measures that can reduce risky behaviour. Results show that the presence of police officer at the LC was most effective at reducing illegal crossings, while the presence of cameras contributes significantly as well, especially after safety educational campaign when illegal crossing decreases for 59.23% (Barić, Pilko, & Starčević, 2018)

This study is very similar to the recommended methodology in this RNS. However, the proposed research would attempt to study education alone. The Baric, et al study performed a base line with hidden cameras, then cameras placed conspicuously to determine the effect of the cameras on behavior. The test day included education (posters and flyers), but also a uniformed policeman. The baseline illegal crossing percentage was 49%. On test day, illegal crossings went to 1%. Follow up testing, (the very next day), included the education but not the police officer. Illegal crossings went back up to 25%. This RNS also recommends a longer-term follow-up evaluation. One of the reasons the illegal crossing rate is so high in this study is that, due to extremely high rail traffic, the level crossing is closed 44% of the time. This RNS would recommend a crossing or portion of right-of-way where trespassing behavior is known to occur, but not at the rate of this study.

Silla and Kallberg found:

…Young schoolchildren (8-11 yrs) reacted positively to a 45 minute lesson on safe behavior around railways. This was determined 2-3 months after the lesson and was based on the children’s behavior intention, the understanding of the dangerousness of the behavior, and the understanding of the illegality of the behavior. The authors conceded that the positive effect of the education was not necessarily large, but believed that the effect would reduce future trespassing behavior and subsequent trespassing casualties. (Silla & Kallberg, 2016)

The proposed research would differ by replacing the “behavior intention” and “understanding of danger and illegality” measured in Silla (above) with behavior of the target trespassing group.

Savage found:

...A positive link between the number of OLI presentations and reduced collisions (Savage, 2006). The proposed research would differ by evaluating the effectiveness of a specific application of education (including OLI presentations, if chosen) and would evaluate the effect on trespassers, rather than drivers.

Lobb, et al found:

This study evaluated a programme of interventions designed to reduce the incidence of illegal and unsafe crossing of a rail corridor at a city station by boys on their way to and from the adjacent high school in Auckland, New Zealand. The boys were observed crossing before, during, and after implementation of each intervention; in addition, surveys were carried out before and after the programme to discover the boys’ attitudes. Rail safety education in school, punishment for every unsafe crossing (continuous punishment), and punishment occasionally for unsafe crossing (intermittent punishment) were associated with significant decreases in unsafe crossing compared with that observed prior to any intervention. General communications about rail safety were not associated with significant decreases in unsafe crossing. When interventions were examined consecutively, unsafe crossing was significantly reduced between the communications and education phases, and even more so between education and continuous punishment, but there was no statistically significant difference in frequency of unsafe crossing between continuous and intermittent punishment. It was concluded that punishment may be more effective in reducing unsafe behaviour in this type of situation than targeted education, and is much more effective than communications to heighten awareness. (Lobb, Harré, & Terry, 2003)

The proposed research would evaluate whether education alone (not in conjunction with punishment) is effective.

Some studies have shown that education campaigns have a higher likelihood of success for pedestrians (the authors stated this, but did not provide data to support it):

there is evidence that pedestrian education campaigns have a higher likelihood of success. (Searle, Di Milia, Dawson, & Innovation, 2011)

The proposed research would provide data to support or refute that education campaigns are effective in deterring unlawful and dangerous trespassing behavior.

Freeman and Rakotonirainy found:

from a different perspective, it may be considered somewhat surprising that up to 18% of the sample were either unsure or did not know (in some circumstances) when it was legal to cross at a level crossing. This is consistent with one of the few studies in the area that revealed almost half of an Australian-sampled group did not believe or were unaware that it was illegal to cross when a train was approaching (Llyod’s Rail Register, 2007). This has implications for the development of awareness/education schemes, particularly given the tremendous amount of research that has demonstrated injury prevention education is an important and effective tool to reduce injuries and fatalities (Crandall et al., 2013). However, it is noted that preliminary education-based campaigns have not proven extremely effective (Lobb et al., 2001, 2003; Schonfeld and Musumeci, 2003), although this may be due to other deleterious effects on safety discussed below e.g., sensation seeking propensities. _(Freeman & Rakotonirainy, 2015)

An earlier Lobb, et al study’s Abstract:

This study evaluated a programme of educational and environmental (access prevention) interventions designed to reduce the incidence of illegal and unsafe crossing of the rail corridor at a suburban station in Auckland, New Zealand. Immediately after the programme of interventions, the proportion of those crossing the rail corridor by walking across the tracks directly rather than using the nearby overbridge had decreased substantially. Three months later, the decrease was even greater. However, the educational and environmental interventions were introduced simultaneously so that the effects of each could not be separated; nor could other unmeasured factors be ruled out. Anonymous surveys administered immediately before and 3 months after the interventions indicated that while awareness of the illegality of walking across the tracks had increased slightly, perception of risk had not changed. This suggests that the educational interventions may have had less effect than the access prevention measures. (Lobb, Harre, & Suddendorf, 2001)

Lobb, et al commented on the conclusion just above in a later study:

…While as noted above there is little published research evaluating educational and environmental interventions to reduce unsafe railway-pedestrian behavior, there are relevant studies on road-rail crossing and road-pedestrian accidents that lend some support to this conclusion. Previous research on road pedestrian behavior has suggested that educational and awareness-raising interventions have limited, if any, effectiveness in reducing unsafe road crossing (e.g., Connelly, Conaglen, Parsonson, & Isler, 1998; Hill, 1984; Lenz, 1982) (Lobb, 2006)

The proposed research would not introduce a confounding prevention measure, such as an overbridge, so that the effectiveness of the educational intervention could be evaluated


Barić, D., Pilko, H., & Starčević, M. (2018). Introducing experiment in pedestrian behaviour and risk perception study at urban level crossing. International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 25(1), 102–112. https://doi.org/10.1080/17457300.2017.1341934

Freeman, J., & Rakotonirainy, A. (2015). Mistakes or deliberate violations? A study into the origins of rule breaking at pedestrian train crossings. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 77, 45–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2015.01.015

Lobb, B. (2006). Trespassing on the tracks: A review of railway pedestrian safety research. Journal of Safety Research, 37(4), 359–365. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jsr.2006.04.005

Lobb, B., Harre, N., & Suddendorf, T. (2001). An evaluation of a suburban railway pedestrian crossing safety programme. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 33(2), 157–165. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0001-4575(00)00026-9

Lobb, B., Harré, N., & Terry, N. (2003). An evaluation of four types of railway pedestrian crossing safety intervention. Accident Analysis & Prevention, 35(4), 487–494. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0001-4575(02)00026-X

Savage, I. (2006). Does public education improve rail–highway crossing safety? Accident Analysis and Prevention, 38, 310–316. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2005.10.001

Searle, a, Di Milia, L., Dawson, D., & Innovation, C. R. C. for R. (2011). An investigation of risk takers at railway level crossings.

Silla, A., & Kallberg, V.-P. (2016). Effect of railway safety education on the safety knowledge and behaviour intention of schoolchildren. Evaluation and Program Planning, 55, 9–16. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.evalprogplan.2015.11.006


Note: The tasks listed below are one way to perform this research. Depending on the budget and the researchers’ interest, different tasks could be chosen. The key is to perform a study that gives empirical evidence of the effectiveness of education and/or awareness on trespassing behavior. The study should be quasi-experimental and replicable by others.

  1. Initial research design- develop an overall plan to discuss with carriers or other local partners

  2. Solicit carriers (or other partner, such as a state DOT or local community) with significant trespassing activity

  3. Qualify and select Carrier/Partner for the Research

  4. Finalize the Research Design- make adjustments to initial design, based on the circumstances unique to this carrier, partner, or target. Attempt to design out any confounding issues.

  5. Determine and Coordinate the Education and/or Awareness Countermeasure (Materials, Methods and/or Personnel)

  6. Determine and obtain access to trespassing behavior detection apparatus and/or personnel

  7. Perform Baseline Detection

  8. Launch Education and/or Awareness Campaign

  9. Perform Short-term Detection

  10. Perform Long-term Detection

  11. Analysis and Conclusions

  12. Research Report Writeup


A suggested implementation process:

  1. Selection

    a) Select a qualified and cooperative rail carrier (or other partner) i) A qualified carrier is one that that has significant and similar trespassing behavior

    b) Select a target audience for the Education Campaign.

    c) Select a method of education (and materials) appropriate for the trespassing group

        i) The

    appropriate method should be as pervasive as possible (and as continuous as judged by the researchers to be complete) at the test site or test area, so that the effects have a chance to be effective and different than the control site (or before/after, etc.).

    d) Determine whether the cooperation of a third party is necessary- there may be access issues (e.g. schoolchildren) or anti-confounding issues (local media) or other third parties who must be cooperative.

    e) Select a detection method (human or device), and if necessary, a relatively objective description of behavior that qualifies as trespassing for this study (not necessarily a legal or FRA standard).

  2. Baseline detection- Obtain a quantitative measure of the extent of the trespassing behavior at all chosen sites at comparable times and days of the week. If possible, supplement the counts with qualitative, but significant observations, such as especially egregious behavior or close calls. Judgment should be used to determine the appropriate period for the baseline measurement, but several days of observation are recommended. Care should be taken as to not influence the baseline or subsequent measures (e.g. measurement should be inconspicuous (if human, certainly no one in uniform)). Only in cases of imminent harm should the observer intervene in the situation.

  3. Countermeasure Application- Apply the countermeasure to the intended audience where appropriate for the research design.The countermeasure should be applied consistently with as many parameters as the baseline observations, e.g. same days and times. There will likely be a effectiveness/attribution trade-off. Education is probably most effective if it is disseminated widely and is continuous. However, without a clear start or end of the countermeasure application, the resulting behavior change may not be as certainly attributable to the application of the countermeasure.

  4. Short-Term Detection- Immediately after the application of the countermeasure, a quantitative measure should be taken, consistent with the baseline measurement parameters. If human observers are used, it is ideal that the time-series observations be done by the same person, to control for subjectivity in determination of subject behavior and estimation methods (in the case of rampant behavior). The measurement should take into account legal and responsible behavior as well as illegal/dangerous behavior. (The Baric, et al study referenced above handled this by displaying good vs. bad behavior as a percentage of total observed behaviors.

  5. Long-term Detection- a second quantitative measure should be taken after a period of time has passed. The researchers will need to balance the limiting factors of budget and availability of observers with the ability to ascertain the lasting effects of the countermeasure.

  6. Analysis and Conclusions

  7. Research Report Completion


One source of funding might be OLI itself, or perhaps one of its railroad or governmental sponsors. An advantage with OLI participation is that OLI already has an ongoing education effort, complete with materials and instructors. Another source might be the FRA. Per the FRA Highway-Rail Crossing and Trespassing Fact Sheet- “The FRA works with railroads, rail labor, state transportation departments, local communities, and schools to educate the public about the dangers of railroad trespassing.” The FRA may want to determine if education they tout is effective. A third possible funding source could be commuter lines in large cities. Some commuter lines perform “station blitzes” where representatives of the commuter railroad join with OLI representatives and local police to pass out literature and answer questions regarding rail safety. If this option is chosen, the researchers should find some way of evaluating the education component separate from the enforcement (police) component.

Sponsoring Committee:AR080, Highway/Rail Grade Crossings
Research Period:6 - 12 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Dr. Scott Gabree, Phillip Meraz, and Kurt Topel
Date Posted:09/21/2018
Date Modified:09/25/2018
Index Terms:Safety education, Trespassers, Railroad facilities, Pedestrians, Pedestrian safety, Behavior modification, Countermeasures,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Public Transportation
Safety and Human Factors

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