FRA to hold regional workshops on right-of-way trespassing

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Trespassers stop to pose for photos on Florida East Coast Railway tracks in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., in May 2018.
Bob Johnston

CHICAGO The Federal Railroad Administration will hold six regional workshops in response to an alarming increase of the number of fatalities along railroad rights-of-way, in or near locations where such incidents are most prevalent.

FRA Trespassing Program Analyst Michail Grizkewitsch announced plans for the workshops last week at Metra’s “Breaking the Silence: Restoring Hope, Saving Lives” conference on trespasser prevention. FRA data shows trespasser fatalities increased nearly 40% in the first half of 2019 compared to the same period a year earlier. [See “Rail Safety Week focus: prevent trespasser deaths,” Trains News Wire, Sept. 25, 2019].

Although dates and exact locations have yet to be determined, the workshops will be held in or adjacent to the ten U.S. counties where incidents are most prevalent:

— The San Francisco Bay area (Contra Costa, Alameda, San Joaquin counties)

— Southern California’s Inland Empire in California (San Bernardino, Riverside)

— Los Angeles

— Chicago (Cook)

— South Florida (Broward, Palm Beach)

— Houston (Harris)

The FRA will hold a “Grade Crossing Technology Symposium” in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 19 to highlight the new technologies for grade crossing warning systems, and Grizkewitsch says, “We plan to take that on the road and make the meetings two-day events. The more we educate our communities on the root cause of railroad trespassing—and involve local law enforcement, the better everyone is going to be.”

He demonstrated how drones can detect trespassers, and related instances in Florida where activity was so prevalent that Tri-Rail and Brightline engineers regularly have had to sound horns in quiet zones.

Other speakers at the program discussed suicide prevention efforts and campaigns to discourage “selfie” photography along the tracks.  

Local resident Amanda Kies shared her battle with anxiety, mental illness, and depression before she decided to go public with her struggles.

Metra Chief Safety and Environmental Officer Henry Konczal discussed his agency’s “Question, Persuade, Refer” employee intervention education program, based in part on a successful initiative undertaken in Britain. He showed participants a moving British Network Rail public information video about a woman who had decided to take her own life, but changed her mind because someone took the time to talk to her.

Konczal says that based on Metra documentation and police reports, observant employees had been able to successfully intervene to prevent suicides in more than 150 instances since the program began in 2017.

“Now we have an opportunity to go one step further and involve the public,” he told the group.

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