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STATE: Rail officials have new tool to prevent deaths on train tracks

RALEIGH – A state railroad safety study could save lives by giving officials a better tool to prevent people from getting hit by trains.

The four-year study used thermal cameras to develop a more complete understanding of the extent of pedestrian trespassing on North Carolina‘s rail network. The study, conducted by researchers at the Institute of Transportation Research and Education (ITRE), was supported and funded by the N.C. Department of Transportation’s Rail Division and Research & Development unit.

Officials intend to use the study to target their outreach and engineering efforts to areas where trespassing on railroad tracks has been the biggest problem. Trespassing is the leading cause of rail-related deaths in North Carolina.

“Far too many people get killed or seriously injured every year in North Carolina because they trespassed and got struck by a train,” said state Transportation Secretary Eric Boyette. “This study is another tool to assist our education and outreach efforts, preventing people from trespassing on train tracks in the future.”

In North Carolina, 22 people were killed while trespassing on railroad tracks in 2019. The number of trespasser fatalities has remained steady from year to year.

Officials with the Rail Division say they were able to use data they collected to complete models of where trespassing is likely to occur in the future.

Thermal video camera systems with motion sensors were installed at known trespassing paths in Charlotte, Durham, Elon, Gastonia, Greensboro, Lumberton, Mebane, Raleigh, Rocky Mount, Salisbury and Shelby. The information gathered was used to develop profiles of trespassing activity by season, month, day of the week and hour of day for each hot spot location that can inform local-level trespass mitigation strategies.

For the project’s next steps, the department’s Research & Development unit will design an education presentation with case summary and trespass predictive models delivered through outreach and training activities, provided by the Rail Division and ITRE, in the communities studied. The data will be used to further the NCDOT Rail Division’s efforts in education, supporting enforcement and providing engineering solutions that will help improve safety along the state’s rail corridors.