More than 20 pedestrian trespassers have been killed so far in 2020 on NJ Transit's rail lines. According to statistics shared by the agency, at least 20 pedestrians' lives were lost on the tracks annually going back to 2015 — including 31 in 2018 alone.

In an effort to better detect individuals who access the tracks, and come up with ways to help mitigate the problem, Rutgers University in collaboration with NJ Transit is close to deploying artificial intelligence at select grade crossings, courtesy of a $357,000 grant from the Federal Transit Administration.

The partnership is one of 10 recipients of the grant awards throughout the country.

"What we are essentially lacking right now is high quality data and a deep understanding of ... how trespassing takes place," said Ali Maher, director of the Rutgers University Center for Advanced Infrastructure and Transportation. "The trespassing video data is quite sparse and requires extensive manual review for processing

There are many more instances of train-tracks trespassing that do not result in casualties or accidents, Maher noted.

"Trespassing accounts for 17.6% of rail transit related deaths from 2010 to 2019," Maher said.

CAIT's team, under professor Xiang Liu, is developing a customized system that can detect all trespassing events and process data on the spot. Data will be collected for nine months; experts will use the data to better understand the frequency, demographics and causes of trespassing events, Maher said.

"The funding provided by USDOT to Rutgers University will help NJ Transit develop innovative trespasser avoidance solutions — protecting NJ Transit customers, drivers, and pedestrians," said NJ Transit President Kevin Corbett. "Ultimately, it will save lives, and the focus on artificial intelligence to gather data aligns perfectly with NJ Transit's focus on technology to improve every aspect of our service."

NJT's system of rails includes 325 grade crossings. The agency operates another 14 on other properties such as Metro-North.

Pedestrian fatalities on NJT tracks, according to the agency:

  • 2020, year-to-date: 21
  • 2019: 20
  • 2018: 31
  • 2017: 20
  • 2016: 20
  • 2015: 25

NJ Transit encourages the public to stay off railroad tracks and only cross at designated areas. At all times, trains can operate on any track from either direction, the agency noted.

Contact reporter Dino Flammia at dino.flammia@townsquaremedia.com.

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