Operation Lifesaver – Stop, Look, Listen and Live

Every year in Canada approximately 300 collisions and trespassing incidents occur at highway/railway crossings and along railway tracks resulting in the death or serious injury of nearly 130 people.

Virtually all of these incidents could be avoided.

The members of Operation Lifesaver- self-proclaimed “dedicated railroaders and citizens” aim to save lives by educating Canadians about the hazards surrounding rail property and trains. Operation Lifesaver is a rail safety program by Transport Canada and the Railway Association of Canada, operating since 1980. The program is mainly based on four areas of concentration: Education, Enforcement, Engineering and Evaluation.

Michael Bourque, President and CEO of the Railway Association of Canada, compares crossing a railway track with crossing the highway: “It is not a good idea unless you are crossing at a safe location and be very careful.”

Even though people of all ages are involved in those accidents, a “significant amount of the population getting injured and killed are younger people.” For that reason, a lot of Operation Lifesaver’s work focuses on educating younger people. When visiting schools for their “Back to School” campaign, Operation Lifesaver noticed that one of the main delusions people have is the myth that you can hear a train coming- when in fact you can’t. “By the time you hear it, it’s too late,” emphasizes Bourque. “We provide education on the fact that trains are a lot quieter due to more quiet engines, welded tracks and that they are a lot faster than people think.”

The biggest risk for younger people is distraction, Michael Bourque says. For example, there are quite a lot of people listening to their music and wearing headphones while they walk along the tracks. That simply makes it impossible for these people to hear the train coming. A new, extreme example of people being distracted by their device is the game “Pokémon GO.” Since the Operation already noticed incidents of Pokémon GO players trespassing on railway property, they’ve determined that the game is “a definitely major concern to railways right now.”

“People tend to be so focused on Pokémon GO, they are moving around trying to catch all the Pokémon and not necessarily paying attention to their surroundings,” Bourque says. “They are looking down and they are being directed by their phone.”


Another growing trend that bothers Operation Lifesaver is young people taking pictures on railway tracks. Since more and more people have been taking the risk to organize wedding pictures and all kinds of different photoshoots on railway property, part of the Operation’s work concentrates on educating photographers about the danger and risk they are facing for a single good shot.

“We are hoping that we will be able to continue to engage people in different parts of the country in different volunteer groups and different organizations to spread our message,” says Bourque.

So for anyone wondering how they can help, it’s easy to join Operation Lifesaver and help people avoid accidents by becoming a presenter.

Since the program started in 1980, the number of trespassing incidents has decreased, but because every incident could be prevented, Michael Bourque says “there is still a lot of work to do to educate people on the danger of trespassing railway property. But we are still a 100 per cent committed to working on new programs to get this message out in new ways.”

If you want to know more about Operation Lifesaver, have a look at their Twitter account, their Facebook page or their website.