The National Academies

TCRP A-44 [Completed]

Strategies for Deterring Trespassing on Rail Transit and Commuter Rail Rights-of-Way

  Project Data
Funds: $250,000
Research Agency: Texas A&M Transportation Institute
Principal Investigator: Jeffery Warner
Effective Date: 9/7/2019
Completion Date: 4/1/2021
Comments: Complete - Published as TCRP Research Report 233

In response to the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21) and its successor, the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has established the Safety Management Systems (SMS) framework as the basis for its National Public Transportation Safety Program. A key aspect of the SMS approach is to bring management and labor together to detect and correct safety problems earlier and analyze safety data holistically to ensure that resources are applied effectively to mitigate risks.
One such risk facing the rail transit and commuter rail industries is related to a continuing problem with trespassing incidents occurring on many systems throughout the United States. Trespassers are at great risk for being struck and fatally injured or severely hurt while on the rights-of-way. The Federal Railway Administration (FRA) reports that “Trespassing along railroad rights-of-way is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in America. Nationally, more than 400 trespass fatalities and nearly as many injuries occur each year, the vast majority of which are preventable.” The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) has long recognized the dangers associated with trespassers on the rights-of-way and recently held hearings to solicit input from the rail industry and other entities. (See Trains and Trespassing: Ending Tragic Encounters.)   
Rail transit and commuter rail agencies have deployed a variety of techniques and treatments to address the trespasser issue. These techniques and treatments have ranged from physical barriers to public outreach and education and had varying levels of success. The goal of this research is to catalog ways to deter trespassing on rail rights-of-way. The benefits are reduced fatalities or injuries due to trespassing, reduced emotional stress, reduced operational impacts, and reduced costs due to claims and lawsuits. This work will also provide proven trespasser prevention strategies to transportation agencies and regulatory bodies for consistent implementation.
The objectives of this research are to (1) review the breadth of current trespasser mitigation strategies research, (2) catalog the wide variety of current approaches to preventing trespassing on the rights-of-way, (3) analyze the different trespasser mitigation strategies to ascertain overall outcomes and effectiveness, and (4) document best practices and make recommendations.



The research deliverables should: 

(1)   Review and summarize relevant literature on trespasser mitigation strategies. 

(2)  Document current domestic and international industry practices including guidelines, standards and operating procedures.

(3)  Survey the transit agencies under FTA SSO oversight,  FRA regulated commuter rail agencies, and at least five non-North American agencies to understand and catalog:  (a) key concerns regarding trespassing from the agency’s  perspective; (b) the agency’s understanding of who is trespassing and their reasons for their behavior (c) where the responsibility within the agency lies for trespasser mitigation; (c) based on experience, the agency’s recommendations of what works or does not work to deter trespassing; and (d) the agency’s recommendations on how to mitigate trespasser incidents through standards and best practices.

(4) Analyze the work in previous tasks for commonalities and disparate approaches.  Highlight the key strategies, similarities, and differences throughout the industry.

(5)  Identify best practices, lessons learned and recommendations.

(6) Produce an industry guidebook that includes the advantages and disadvantages of each trespasser mitigation strategy identified.  The guidebook will include risk mitigation strategies.


In addition, based upon the survey responses and the panel’s input, a minimum of four (4) agencies in the United States will be selected for in-depth onsite case studies. At least one (1) non-North American case study shall also be included.

STATUS:  Research is complete and TCRP Research report 233 is available here.

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