Portland Press Herald

Brunswick will be the site of an unusual research project involving testing an automated trespasser detection and deterrent systems in high-risk areas along the Pan Am Railways and Amtrak Downeaster rail lines, the Maine Department of Transportation said Monday.

Researchers will install and operate systems along the railways 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, the Maine department said in a news release.

Maine DOT spokesman Ted Talbot said trespassing is a common problem along railroad lines and is 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, 10 people have been killed and five seriously injured while trespassing on rail lines in Maine, according to U.S. DOT data.

Nationally, 4,813 trespassing deaths have occurred 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 U.S. DOT 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 short-cut 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 short-cut 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.”

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