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Pedestrian “Shortest Path” Considerations as An Approach to Reducing Railroad Trespassing


Although it has not been quantified, an important reason that people trespass on rail rights-of-way is that the rail line may represent the shortest or most convenient route between their origin and destination. In other cases, their travel path may cross the rail line because there is no nearby roadway or grade-separated structure. In other cases, they may be taking a short-cut to/from a rail transit platform and their vehicle or transit stop. Because these individuals view themselves as travelers, not trespassers, and are acting as rational humans in taking the least energy route, they are challenging to address from a countermeasure standpoint. Signing that prohibits trespassing typically will not work for these pedestrians. Enforcement can be effective but is severely limited by resource constraints. Fencing can be used, however, examples abound of fencing along rail rights-of-way being cut or otherwise breached by these travelers. Rather than simply trying to control access, another countermeasure strategy would be to examine the environment along/around the rail right-of-way to see how it might be reconfigured to create routes/paths that are more attractive from a shortest path, energy expenditure and connectivity standpoint than using or crossing the rail right-of-way. To our knowledge, no formal approach or methodology is available to provide guidance for engineers/planners and railroad officials seeking to minimize railroad trespassing through this strategy.


The objective of this research is to develop a framework or methodology for assessing where the pedestrian shortest path issue is a significant contributor to railroad and transit trespassing incidents and analyzing how roadways, paths and structures (or even transit stops) along or in the vicinity of rail rights-of-way might be developed, constructed or reconfigured to create routes/paths that are more attractive to pedestrians than walking along or across the rail right-of-way.


The results and products of this research will reduce rail and transit trespassing, and in turn train-pedestrian interactions, thereby increasing the safety of pedestrians and enhancing rail and transit operations.

Related Research:

Office of Railroad Safety, “Community Trespass Prevention Guide,” Federal Railroad Administration, September 2012.

“2012 Right-of-Way Fatality and Trespass Prevention Workshop,” DOT/FRA/ORD-13/18, Federal Railroad Administration, April 2013.

“2015 Right-of-Way Fatality and Trespass Prevention Workshop,” DOT/FRA/ORD-17/06, Federal Railroad Administration, May 2017.


The major tasks of this research include, but are not limited to, the following:

  1. Perform a comprehensive literature review

  2. Select locations for field study to gain better understanding of the problem

  3. For each site, analyze pedestrian incident data, pedestrian origins and destinations with respect to available routes/paths. Interview law enforcement personnel.

  4. Identify logical minimum energy pedestrian routes and the modifications needed to implement them
  5. Formulate methodology or framework for performing the above analysis

  6. Prepare a users’ guide to the methodology


Once the methodology is developed and validated, it can be implemented immediately by state and local agency planners and engineers as well as by railroads and transit agencies.


Trespassing along rail rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in the United States. Nationally, more than 400 trespass fatalities and nearly as many injuries occur each year along rail rights-of-way.

Sponsoring Committee:AR080, Highway/Rail Grade Crossings
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Ron Eck, Robert Rescot, and David Nelson
Date Posted:09/21/2018
Date Modified:09/25/2018
Index Terms:Pedestrians, Pedestrian safety, Trespassers, Railroad grade crossings, Walkways, Routing,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Public Transportation
Safety and Human Factors

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