Community Engagement

Norfolk Southern works hard to educate communities about railroad safety. A primary focus is reducing incidents at highway-rail grade crossings across our system.

Reducing Highway-Rail Grade-Crossing Incidents

Nearly all grade-crossing incidents occur when motorists fail to yield to approaching trains. With sometimes tragic outcomes, motorists too often ignore flashing warning lights and drive around crossing gates to try to “beat the train.” In 2013, Norfolk Southern recorded 341 vehicle/train incidents at grade crossings, an increase of seven incidents over 2012. However, the number of incidents per million train miles actually decreased in 2013.

Of the total incidents in 2013, 41 percent occurred in four states – Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, and Alabama. We attribute that in part to heavier train and vehicular traffic, larger populations, and more grade crossings in those areas than in other U.S. states across our network.

Norfolk Southern’s Safety and Environmental Department works with a national nonprofit safety organization, Operation Lifesaver, to educate community leaders, safety partners, and the public about rail safety. Our “Train Your Brain” campaign aims to educate college-age drivers about grade-crossing safety. Our overall goal is to reach as many people as possible on key rail routes and in places where we experience higher rates of incidents.

The key is building relationships with community and city leaders and with state transportation department partners, said Will Miller, manager grade-crossing safety.

“We all are interested in the same issues: safe and efficient movement of freight and economic development,” he said. “We need solid relationships to work on developing solutions together.”

Highway-rail grade-crossing incidents on
Norfolk Southern network 2007–2013

Year No. of highway-rail incidents No. of train miles (millions) Incidents per million train miles
2007 449 102 4.4
2008 410 101 4.1
2009 277 85 3.3
2010 318 91 3.5
2011 348 83 4.2
2012 334 87 3.8
2013 341 95 3.6

Train Excursions Promote Rail Safety

Residents in communities served by Norfolk Southern don’t often get a chance to ride a train to learn about railroad safety. In April 2013, NS teamed with Operation Lifesaver to offer two weeklong excursions that promoted awareness of highway-rail safety and the risks of trespassing on railroad tracks along major NS routes.

As the safety train traveled the tracks, a camera mounted on the lead locomotive streamed live video into passenger cars. Guests enjoyed the scenery while observing potential safety issues that train crews encounter daily.

Together, the safety trains – one traveling between Buffalo, N.Y., and Huntingburg, Ind., the other between New Orleans, La., and Greensboro, N.C. – stopped in 23 cities in 11 states, covering 1,381 route miles. More than 100 guests participated, including community leaders, law enforcement officers, safety officials, first responders, and Operation Lifesaver volunteers.

Grassroots Safety Effort

In April 2013, Norfolk Southern police met for two days with local law enforcement and elementary and high school students in Cabarrus County, N.C., to reduce railroad trespassing. Police visited a popular hangout near railroad tracks where intermodal trains pass by at nearly 60 mph. Their message: Trespassing on railroad rights-of-way is illegal and dangerous.

Brainy Knows Best

Norfolk Southern’s most popular safety ambassador has to be “Brainy,” a giant pink mascot who makes appearances at community events as part of our “Train Your Brain” campaign. The campaign aims to increase public awareness about being smart and careful at highway-rail grade crossings, reaching more than 800,000 people during the past six years.

The 2013 campaign focused on East Tennessee markets, particularly Knoxville, Chattanooga, and the Tri-Cities area of Kingsport, Johnson City, and Bristol. Brainy appeared at 20 public events, including university sporting events and family-friendly festivals. Tennessee in 2012 experienced 66 highway-rail collisions, resulting in four deaths and 18 injuries. Additionally, 10 people died and another 10 were injured while trespassing on railroad tracks, equipment, and property in the state.

Train Your Brain targets drivers 16 to 24 years old. In Knoxville, our representatives gave educational presentations to new student drivers about the dangers of distracted driving and of trespassing on railroad property.

The campaign’s safety messages are promoted using traditional and nontraditional marketing, including advertising, event marketing, public relations, digital marketing, and social media. In 2014, we are taking the campaign to South Carolina and Charlotte, N.C. For railroad safety tips, event photos, or to find out more about the campaign, visit or find Brainy on Norfolk Southern’s Facebook page.