September 17, 2013

Maine to try out rail-trespasser detector

The automated system, to be installed in Brunswick, is aimed at preventing fatalities in high-risk areas.

By J. Craig Anderson
Staff Writer

Brunswick will be the site of an unusual research project to test automated systems for detecting and deterring trespassers in high-risk areas along the Pan Am Railways and Amtrak Downeaster rail lines, the Maine Department of Transportation said Monday.

click image to enlarge

A man was killed by an Amtrak passenger train in April 2012 near this pedestrian cut-through from West Cutts Street to Cutts Street in Biddeford. Since 2003, trespassing on rail lines in Maine has led to 10 deaths and five serious injuries.

Gordon Chibroski/2012 Press Herald file


Just 10 people have died in Maine during the past decade as a result of trespassing on or near railroad tracks, and five others have been injured. That’s far less than the per-state average of 182 deaths and injuries during the same period.

Year: Deaths,  Injuries

2013*: 1, 0
2012: 1, 0
2011: 0, 0
2010: 0, 1
2009: 1, 0
2008: 0, 1
2007: 0, 1
2006: 4, 0
2005: 0, 0
2004: 1, 0
2003: 2, 2

Total 10, 5

*First six months only

Source: Federal Railroad Administration

Researchers will install and operate systems that automatically detect trespassers, capture video with wireless cameras and issue recorded warnings to tell them to get away from the tracks. The systems also can be used to alert local police.

State officials said specific equipment and locations for the three-year research project have yet to be determined.

The project will be funded by a $200,000 interagency agreement between the Federal Railroad Administration and the U.S. Department of Transportation's Volpe National Transportation Systems Center, MDOT said in a news release.

MDOT spokesman Ted Talbot said trespassing is a common problem along railroad lines and is both illegal and dangerous.

"When they do that, there's an inherent danger," Talbot said. "Trains can't stop on a dime, you know."

Since 2003, there have been 10 people killed and five seriously injured while trespassing on rail lines in Maine, according to USDOT data.

Nationally, there have been 4,813 trespass deaths during the same period, an average of about 96 per state. The average number of injuries per state was 85 during the past decade.

"Illegal trespassing is the No. 1 cause of rail-related fatalities in the United States," Gov. Paul LePage said in a news release. "We welcome this opportunity to use the latest in technology as a means to reduce or prevent injuries and fatalities and to increase safety for Mainers."

According to a 2008 USDOT report titled "U.S. Automated Railroad Infrastructure Trespass Detection System Performance Guidelines," the three most common factors that lead to trespassing incidents are accessibility, poor visibility and shortcut potential.

Sections of railroad near high-traffic areas that lack adequate fencing or landscaping are considered highly accessible, the report said. Poor visibility refers to areas of the track or its right-of-way that offer trespassers relative privacy and seclusion.

Sections with shortcut potential are the shortest or fastest ways to walk between two popular destinations, it said.

A research project initiated in 2001 involving a prototype security system in Pittsford, N.Y., showed that automated systems can be effective in detecting and deterring railway trespassers in high-risk areas, the report said.

Researchers placed the system on a railroad bridge and evaluated its performance over a three-year period.

"The prototype system ... proved very successful," the report said. "In fact, it was transferred to the private railroad operator ... and has remained in operation as of March 2008."

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson 

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