CTA sees drop in trespassers on tracks

September 19, 2014

A year after launch, “Stay Off the Tracks” campaign raising awareness of safety

One year after launching an informational campaign focused on rail-customer safety, the Chicago Transit Authority has seen a nearly 17 percent drop in the number of reports of people trespassing on CTA railroad tracks.

While the progress is encouraging, CTA officials will continue to remind customers of the dangers of entering the tracks for any reason, such as trying to retrieve items dropped onto the tracks or deliberately trespassing along the railroad right of way, as the area on which trains run is known.

“We’re pleased to see the numbers declining, but unfortunately far too many customers are still making the dangerous and unfortunate decision to go onto the tracks,” said CTA President Forrest Claypool. “We believe this campaign generated a lot of conversations about the important topic of safety, and will continue to remind and encourage our customers to take simple steps to keep themselves safe.”

Customers who enter CTA tracks face not only the danger of oncoming trains, but also that of the electrified third rail, which carries 600 volts of electricity used to propel trains—a level of electricity that is almost always lethal within seconds of contact.

In the 12 months before the mid-September 2013 launch of the “Stay Off the Tracks, It’s Not Worth Your Life” campaign, CTA received 388 reports of individuals on the railroad right of way. In the 12 months after, the number dropped to 323, a decline of 16.8 percent. The average number of monthly incidents dropped from 32.3 to 26.9.

The vast majority of reports involve people making a conscious decision to go on the tracks, CTA officials said. Very few reported incidents involve customers accidentally falling or tripping onto the tracks. Alcohol consumption has been a factor in some incidents, according to CTA and Chicago Police records.

Anyone caught trespassing on the right of way will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law, CTA officials said. Unfortunately, very few arrests are made each year, because most individuals leave the right of way shortly after they enter, officials added.
In a related development, the CTA earlier this year promoted legislation that increased the penalties for those who continually trespass on CTA tracks. House Bill 5922 increased the penalty for repeat trespassers who cause delays of 15 minutes or more to rail service to a Class 4 felony, carrying a potential penalty of between one and three years in jail. Previously, repeat offenders faced less-severe misdemeanor charges.

To augment the “Stay Off the Tracks” campaign—which uses public-service ads on trains and buses, at stations, and on digital signs—CTA is developing additional messages to complement the current ones. The agency is also exploring possible future awareness campaigns, and continues to research industry best practices.

The “Stay Off the Tracks” campaign complements CTA’s existing rail safety information, which includes multiple signs along the tracks, at every rail station and in every rail car, as well as safety brochures, website information and other materials.

Overall, the CTA has long had a very strong safety record related to rail service. Last year, more than 229 million riders took train trips.

A CTA customer who drops a personal item can inform a CTA station employee, all of whom have received proper safety training and can communicate with CTA’s Control Center to slow or stop trains or remove power as needed to retrieve the item.

More information is available at transitchicago.com/safety.

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