Blue Line

Trains don’t stop for police

August 23, 2016  By Scott McCallum

663 words – MR

Trains don’t stop for police

by Scott McCallum

CN Police responded to 116 incidents, including 32 fatalities, on CN tracks across North America in the first six months of 2016 alone. Four of the incidents involved trains striking and destroying police vehicles; thankfully no officers were hurt.

This unusual spike in collisions has caused great concern within the railway industry. Law enforcement should also take notice. CN officers are working hard to reduce incidents by implementing traffic and trespass enforcement strategies, education programs and finding ways to reduce risk by partnering with the CN engineering department, local law enforcement and municipal road authorities.

CN Police was created in 1923. Officers are sworn in under and are responsible for applying federal and provincial public security laws within 500 metres of their jurisdiction across Canada.

CN operates 32,180km (20,000 miles) of track across Canada and several rail corridors leading to the Gulf Coast in the United States. It employs 25,500 people and transports more than $250 billion in goods annually.

Under a formal risk management strategy implemented this year each CN officer targets high risk areas within regions of responsibility.

Police and other emergency responders need to remember that trains cannot stop quickly or swerve to avoid a collision with vehicles parked on or near a track. A typical freight train weighing 5,444 metric tonnes and traveling at 90 km/h can take more than 1.6km to come to a complete stop, even with the emergency brakes applied.

It is imperative that officers involved in pursuits, searching for individuals or investigating collisions near railway property stay safe by understand railway operations and train limitations.

Two or more tracks run parallel to each another in many areas, and a high speed train traveling in another direction may pass at any time, unaware of police or other emergency responder activity. Even if train operators see activity from a distance, it is unlikely that they can stop before reaching the scene.

CN Police offer the following rail safety tips specifically to law enforcement officers:

  1. Notify railway companies
    Before approaching tracks or entering onto railway property, make sure the railroad has been notified. Police dispatchers should have all the appropriate 24/7 emergency numbers. Make sure train traffic has stopped before proceeding.

  2. Stay clear of railway tracks
    Make sure vehicles are parked far away from tracks. The standard safe distance is at least five meters from the closest rail. Trains can arrive at anytime and from either direction. Passing trains can kick up debris along the rail corridor, turning it into a dangerous or deadly projectile.

  3. Location
    Provide the rail company with the location of the incident. A railway emergency phone number is usually posted behind the crossbucks at a crossing or on a nearby signal bungalow.

  4. Be visible
    Put on high visibility apparel to maximize visibility before walking onto railway property.

  5. Look
    Always look both ways and listen carefully for approaching trains before crossing tracks.

  6. Watch your step
    Never run or walk on the rails or climb underneath or between railcars. Most railbeds are constructed with very coarse gravel which may be loose or unstable, raising the tripping hazard.

  7. Train crew
    When engaging train crews at a crash scene, understand that they may be suffering from injuries and emotional stress caused by the collision. Be prepared to provide medical or other assistance.

  8. Engagement
    Engage local rail companies in your jurisdiction to formulate effective response procedures. Make sure you’re aware of your agency’s protocol to handle rail incidents.

  9. Communication is key
    Communicate your location and intentions and always keep your dispatcher informed. Notify the railway when police activity is completed and all personnel have cleared railway property so normal operations can resume. A single incident can quickly impact rail traffic for hundreds of kilometers.


Contact Scott McCallum at for more information and advice.

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