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Securing the Right of Way for Transit and Commuter Rail Operations through Access Control


According to Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) and

Federal Transit Administration (FTA) data, between 2014 and 2016, 3,587 people were killed by trains in the United States. Commuter rail and transit operations accounted for 915 of theses fatalities (25.5%). The majority of these incidents did not occur at grade crossings, but were due to people trespassing along the right of way. Suicide in particular, accounted for 378 of the 915 transit related fatalities (41.3%). This project will identify and evaluate the options available to rail operators to secure their right of way from unauthorized intrusions onto the right of way. A second objective is to identify opportunities to apply commercial off the shelf security technology applications used in other industries, to the rail environment.

Trespassing is a very widespread problem afflicting all rail operators. Incidents due to trespassing disrupt rail operations on a daily basis and cost commuters countless hours in delay when tracks are out of service to conduct a death investigation. Trespassers who are struck by trains and fatally injured pay a very heavy price for their error. Approximately 95 percent of suicide incidents lead to a fatal injury while about half of all other trespass incidents result in a fatality. Detecting, warning and when necessary, removing trespassers before they are struck by a train will save lives, as well as avoid the large costs to society when people are fatally injured in incidents that could have been avoided.

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.

Restricting access to dangerous rail rights of way is the fundamental method of securing the right of way. Only persons who are authorized to be on the right of way, should have access to the right of way. However, much of the rail right of way is unsecured and is difficult to secure. For example, in Illinois, there is over 7,600 miles of rail right of way and a very small portion is grade separated or otherwise provided with some sort of access control, typically fence.

Trespassing is not unique to the rail industry. Public utilities, pipeline operators and other operators of “networks” are vulnerable to intrusion. The security, military and defense industries have developed numerous technology applications to detect and warn intruders they are trespassing. There are at least four types of intruder onto rail property to address:

· Accidental, or unintentional

· Benign intent, using the right-of-way for a shortcut, playing or viewing

· Malicious intent with purpose to vandalize, steal or engage in other criminal activity

· Intentional to commit self-harm (suicide)

Each flavor of intruder can be addressed with specific unique means of detection, warning and removal from at‐risk locations. Rail right of way contains large stretches of open space, as well as heavily developed points of interest, or vulnerability, such as control points, bridges, tunnels, platforms and depots.

Signing that prohibits trespassing typically will not work for pedestrians using the rail right-of-way as a short-cut in their journey. 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 objectives of the research are to:

  1. Identify and evaluate the design of railroad rights-of-way to determine specific points of access that are vulnerable to intrusions;

  2. Evaluate approaches that are currently used in controlling access to railroad right-of-way and minimizing trespassing opportunities;

  3. 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;

  4. Investigate methods and technologies that are used in other similar “networks” such as pipeline, public utilities, etc. that can possibly be transferred to the rail industry.


The results of the project will:

  1. Provide a synthesis/summary of the tools available to control access to rail rights-of-way;

  2. Provide a comprehensive evaluation of varied tools and enable rail operators to implement access controls in a cost-effective manner thereby reducing the number of rail related casualties due to trespassing.

  3. 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:

There is currently a limited amount of research available specifically examining access control of rail rights-of-way to deter trespassing; a few relevant documents are:

Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC. (2015). High-Security Fencing for Rail Right-of-way Applications: Current Use and Best Practices. Retrieved from http://www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/details/L17214#p1z25gD_ktrespass

Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC. (2016). Law Enforcement Strategies for Preventing Rail Trespassing. Retrieved from http://www.fra.dot.gov/eLib/details/L17356#p1z5gD_ktrespass

Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC. (2012). Community Trespass Prevention Guide.

Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC. (2014). Trespass Prevention Research Study – West Palm Beach, FL.

Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC. (2017). 2015 Right-of-Way Fatality and Trespass Prevention Workshop, DOT/FRA/ORD-17/06. Retrieved from https://www.fra.dot.gov/Elib/Document/17087

Federal Railroad Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation, Washington, DC. (2013). 2012 Right-of-Way Fatality and Trespass Prevention Workshop, DOT/FRA/ORD-13/18.

Havârneanu, G. M., Burkhardt, J.-M. M., & Paran, F. F. (2015). A systematic review of the literature on safety measures to prevent railway suicides and trespassing accidents. Accident Analysis and Prevention, 81, 30–50. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.aap.2015.04.012

Mishara, B. L., & Bardon, C. (2016). Systematic review of research on railway and urban transit system suicides. Journal of Affective Disorders, 193, 215–226. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jad.2015.12.042

RESTRAIL (REduction of Suicides and Trespasses on RAILway property), International Union of Railways, Paris, France, RESTRAIL Toolbox, http://restrail.eu/toolbox/, 2018.

Transport Canada (2006). Railway Right of Way Access Control Policy. Retrieved from https://www.tc.gc.ca/media/documents/railsafety/access_control.pdf.


Proposed tasks:

  1. Review literature in national and international scope to identify current state of the art in:

    a. Access control techniques

    b. Right of way design to minimize intrusion

    c. Intrusion detection – primarily of pedestrians, but also of motor vehicles

    d. Providing automated warnings to intruders

    e. Response options to remove intruders

  2. Develop a catalog of right of way security measures

  3. Identify opportunities to implement commercial off the shelf technology

  4. Evaluate potential for field verification of potential solutions to gain better understanding of the problem; for each site

    a. Analyze pedestrian incident data, pedestrian origins and destinations with respect to available routes/paths. Interview law enforcement personnel

    b. Identify logical minimum energy pedestrian routes and the modifications needed to implement them;

    c. Formulate methodology or framework for performing the above analysis;

    d. Prepare a users’ guide to the methodology


The research will serve as a catalog for the rail industry, Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, AASHTO Rail Council, and relevant stakeholders in selecting and implementing appropriate and cost-effective rail access control technologies. The research team should demonstrate the experience of synthesizing relevant research, as well as 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. 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. The research can be of interest to the Federal Railroad Administration, Federal Transit Administration, AASHTO Rail Committee, and rail operators. The investigation of implementing the off-the-shelf technologies used in other field to the access control in rail, under the scope of this research, might be appropriate for MS research.

Sponsoring Committee:AR080, Highway/Rail Grade Crossings
Research Period:12 - 24 months
Research Priority:High
RNS Developer:Steve Laffey, Robert Rescot, Shanshan Zhao, David Nelson
Date Posted:09/28/2018
Date Modified:10/09/2018
Index Terms:Right of way (Land), Railroad commuter service, Rail transit, Trespassers, Access control (Transportation), Railroad facilities, Security,
Cosponsoring Committees: 
Pedestrians and Bicyclists
Public Transportation
Safety and Human Factors
Security and Emergencies

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