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Editor's Blog and Industry Comments

Protection against railway trespass.

18 January, 2008
In the week when Network Rail reveals that trespass costs the railway industry ã250 million a year, we look at the use of video analytics as a method for preventing death and injury caused by railway trespassing.
Trespass and suicide involving the railways claims between 250 and 300 lives annually in the UK and around 500 per year in the USA. However, the number of incidents not involving fatalities is around 12000 according to the Rail Safety and Standards Board.

Railway surveillance suffers the same problem as pipeline protection, it simply isn't possible to cover the entire network or even respond to incidents quickly enough in the remoter locations. However, in 2006, the US Department of Transportation conducted an experiment using trespass detection at high risk locations. The system involved CCTV cameras, separate motion detectors, some software to prevent false detection of trains and authorised vehicles and a loud speaker system for warning trespassers.

The trials had a reasonable degree of success and with some adjustments to filter out peripheral motion, small animals and weather effects, the false alarm rate was reduced from 17% to 10%.

With the latest IP cameras and video analytics software, the error rate could be reduced even further to provide a more robust solution with few components thus being more reliable and less susceptible to peripheral noise.

By far the most common trespassing incidents involve children playing on the tracks or taking short cuts and behavioural analysis can detect the difference between, for example a grazing deer and a group of children playing.

According to the UK's Rail Safety and Standards Board Annual Safety Performance report for 2006, 40% of railway fatalities involving members of the public who were not passengers were trackside incidents away from stations and other facilities, the vast majority of which involved either being struck by a train or electrocution. The distribution of time of day and age for trespass incidents involving near misses shows a significant skew towards early evening and involve young people. Indeed, those at highest risk are between the ages of 14 and 25.

Network Rail and the British Transport Police are embarking on a number of campaigns aimed at reducing track incidents including the opening of alternative recreation facilities in high risk areas, cracking down harder on crime with fines of up to £1000 and the issuing of anti-social behaviour orders and a public awareness campaign called "No messing". This is all very noble but fines and ASBO's don't prevent anything and alternative recreation is short lived.

The technology is available now to put in place effective detection systems that can be linked to signalling, control centres, the police and alarm systems both on board trains and at the track side. The cost of implementing such technology would quickly be recovered through cost avoidance through the reduction of such incidents.
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