You Could Die: Dangers of Trespassing on Rail

Many people don’t realize that walking on railroad tracks is illegal — and dangerous. In 2014, 148 people were injured while trespassing on Norfolk Southern property — a rate of about one injury every 2½ days.

We have 20,000 miles of track across 22 states, so it’s difficult to prevent trespassing on our rail rights of way. To help combat the problem, the company works hard to warn about the dangers through an extensive public education and outreach program.

In early 2015, for example, the railroad’s grade crossing safety group participated in two major events that reached thousands of people. In March, the group partnered with the National Transportation Safety Board on the agency’s first trespasser prevention forum. The railroad brought its Operation Lifesaver train to the event, which was held at Union Station in the nation’s capital.

In February, Norfolk Southern partnered with Operation Lifesaver Inc. to host an information booth at a professional photographers’ convention in Nashville, Tenn. One item drawing attention: a smashed 35 mm Nikon camera, with the message: “400,000 pound train meets camera — camera loses.” Norfolk Southern’s Research & Tests Department assisted by breaking the camera under controlled conditions to simulate the impact of a train rolling over it.

“A lot of people didn’t know that taking photos on railroad tracks was illegal, and they said, ‘Hey, I’m guilty of that,’ ” said Cayela Wimberly, director grade crossing safety.

A report issued in November 2014 by the Federal Railroad Administration found that the four leading causes of rail-related deaths in the U.S. were: a disregard for grade crossing warning signs; trespasser intoxication; use of distracting electronic devices; and right-of-way proximity to stations, bridges, and rail yards.

Train Excursions Promote Rail Safety

Norfolk Southern’s Safety and Environmental Department partners with Operation Lifesaver, a national nonprofit safety organization, to educate community leaders, safety partners, and the public about rail safety. The goal is to reach as many people as possible on key routes and in communities that experience higher rates of incidents.

In June and July 2014, the railroad teamed with Operation Lifesaver to offer four weeklong excursions that promoted highway-rail grade crossing safety and the risks of trespassing on railroad tracks. As the safety trains traveled the tracks, a camera mounted on the lead locomotive streamed live video into passenger cars, giving guests a view of what train crews encounter daily. More than 1,260 government, business, and community leaders rode the trains. A guest on one of the whistle stop trains was Mark Kalina, pictured here, who talked about the night in 2012 his legs were severed by a train as he attempted to take a shortcut through a rail yard in Columbus, Ohio. Kalina now is an Operation Lifesaver authorized volunteer.

Altogether the four “whistle-stop” trips stopped in 38 cities in nine states, covering 1,549 route miles.

Brainy Knows Best

Norfolk Southern’s “Train Your Brain” public safety program aims to increase public awareness about being smart and alert around railroad tracks. The campaign warns motorists and pedestrians about the often fatal consequences of disregarding train signals and trespassing on railroad property.

Train Your Brain safety messages are promoted through advertising, event appearances, and digital marketing to reach the public — particularly drivers 16 to 24 years old, who statistically are most at-risk for highway-rail and trespasser incidents. Campaign mascot and safety ambassador “Brainy” promotes rail safety messages during community events.

The 2014 campaign focused on the Carolinas — particularly Greenville, Spartanburg, and Columbia, S.C., and Charlotte, N.C. Brainy and the campaign team met more than 215,000 residents of the two states.

To instill safe driving habits, as part of the campaign, Norfolk Southern:

  • Sponsored the production of 1.2 million event tickets for sporting events used by 43 high schools across Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C.
  • Shipped driver’s education kits to 32 high schools in Greenville and Spartanburg, S.C., reaching 6,400 students.
  • Worked with Operation Lifesaver volunteers to deliver rail safety presentations at high school driver’s education classes.

To learn more about Train Your Brain and railroad safety, visit www.BrainysWorld.com or www.facebook.com/BrainysWorld.

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Incidents

Highway-rail incidents involving motorists and passing trains on Norfolk Southern’s network increased 8 percent in 2014. Most incidents occur when motorists ignore flashing warning lights and drive around crossing gates. Of the 373 incidents, 67 percent occurred in six states — Georgia, Indiana, Pennsylvania, Alabama, Ohio, and Illinois. Compared with other states on the railroad’s network, those states have heavier train and vehicular traffic, larger populations, and more grade crossings.

Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Incidents

Year # of highway-rail incidents # of train miles (millions) Incidents per million train miles
2007 473 102 4.6
2008 439 101 4.4
2009 317 85 3.7
2010 349 91 3.8
2011 365 83 4.4
2012 336 87 3.9
2013 344 95 3.6
2014 373 96 3.9

Trespasser Incidents

In 2014, Norfolk Southern reported 148 trespasser injuries that did not occur at a grade crossing — an 18 percent decline from 2013. Of the injuries, 84 resulted in fatalities, including 23 ruled as suicides. More than half of total incidents occurred in five states — Pennsylvania, Ohio, Georgia, North Carolina, and Virginia. Norfolk Southern police handled 11,642 trespasser cases, including making 858 arrests.

Trespasser Incidents

Year Total Trespasser Injuries Accidental Fatalities Suicide Total Fatalities
2010 109 51 N/A 51
2011 123 44 18 62
2012 145 62 20 82
2013 180 65 34 99
2014 148 61 23 84

Help Protect the Line

Developed in 2012, Norfolk Southern’s online “Protect the Line” program makes it easy for communities, businesses, and the public to connect with railroad police and mitigate public safety and security issues. Observers are encouraged to report suspicious activity, trespassing, and track obstructions immediately to Norfolk Southern police.

Norfolk Southern’s Thin Blue Line

Every day, officers with the Norfolk Southern Police Department protect employees and railroad property, customers’ freight, and citizens in railroad communities.

The force comprises 242 members, including 11 K-9 units, a Special Operations Response Team trained in special surveillance and investigative techniques, and 17 communications officers who staff a communications center in Atlanta to provide 24/7 coordination of police operations.

In 2014, field officers handled 11,642 trespasser cases on railroad property and filed 30,145 reports of criminal and noncriminal activities. Working with the company’s safety and environmental department, field officers performed six trespasser abatement programs on line segments with the highest trespasser incident rates. The department participates in Operation Lifesaver’s Grade Crossing Collision Investigation Program, to ensure the safety of local first responders, which includes 12 classes to train responders.

The department’s K-9 teams, trained in explosive detection and patrol techniques, handled 1,531 primary calls for service and 414 assist calls. They made 14 felony and 77 misdemeanor arrests. The Atlanta communications center handled 199,836 calls for service and made 42,549 computer-aided dispatch entries.

A “Super” Performance by Norfolk Southern Police

Norfolk Southern police officers regularly assist federal, state, and local law enforcement with security during events near company rail facilities. They have helped secure rail property for U.S. presidents, international heads of state, and professional athletes.

In February 2014, more than two dozen Norfolk Southern special agents, including four K-9 teams, worked alongside the FBI, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, New Jersey Transit Police, and state and local law enforcement to provide security before, during, and after Super Bowl XLVIII.

Norfolk Southern’s Croxton Yard, which handles intermodal and mixed freight, is near MetLife Stadium, where the Super Bowl was held, and the New Jersey Transit’s Secaucus Junction station, a major hub for game attendees. In addition to protecting rail property from trespassers, railroad police were assigned to the FBI for counterterrorism assistance and to the New Jersey Transit’s Emergency Operations Center.

Norfolk Southern K-9 teams conducted pregame explosive sweeps of transit rail cars and buses and later patrolled the MetLife Stadium rail station. No major incidents occurred.

Norfolk Southern’s top priority is safety of operations in the workplace and in the community. In 2014, for his efforts promoting safety in Chattanooga, Tenn., Daniel Huggins earned a company SPIRIT Award, which recognizes employees who exemplify our core values of Safety, Performance, Integrity, Respect, Innovation, and Teamwork.


Daniel B. Huggins, assistant track supervisor on the Central Division in Chattanooga, Tenn., is committed to the safety and well-being of residents of his mountain city home.

Working with his employee safety and service committee, Huggins, over the past two years, has organized outreach events to raise public awareness about safety at highway-rail grade crossings. At one such “crossing blitz,” Huggins and 10 co-workers volunteered during off-hours to visit crossings around Chattanooga. They talked to more than 300 motorists about the importance of being cautious when approaching the crossings and handed out educational pamphlets reminding motorists to “Look, Listen, & Live.”

“I talked to one lady who said she had never even noticed the crossing where I was standing,” Huggins said. “We explain to people that trains can’t stop on a dime, and there’s not always going to be a gate at a crossing.”

Huggins has partnered with the company’s grade-crossing safety group to work with local officials on reducing the number of grade crossings. “If there’s not a lot of traffic on a road and an alternate route is available, we want to try to eliminate those crossings,” he said. Huggins has helped close two crossings over branch lines that support the movement of freight classified as hazardous material.

Huggins’ outreach hasn’t stopped at the tracks. He has recruited co-workers to volunteer at the Chattanooga Area Food Bank, where they sort and distribute food, and at the Orange Grove Center, a facility for disabled children and adults.

“The railroad is more than just trains,” he said. “We operate and live in the community, and we want to give back.”