Wildlife-train collisions are on the rise globally and creating serious implications for conservation and wildlife management including threatened and endangered species. With increasing rail infrastructure and traffic, as well as rewilding efforts in Europe, these incidents are expected to further escalate in the coming decades. Wildlife-train collisions pose significant economic costs for train operators and can entail significant delays or suspension in service and particularly damage to trainsets. Additionally, collisions with larger animals have an impact on infrastructure and rolling stock (including inspection, repairs, and cleaning) and require coordination with other stakeholders and relevant parties. Collisions with unidentified subjects (could be human or animal) may halt train traffic until clarification. For instance, each year, animals play a role in around 1,500 delays longer than 5 minutes from SNCF’s operation in France. Swedish data implies that railway accidents could surpass road incidents per km infrastructure, suggesting a disproportional risk of train-wildlife collisions compared to cars and with much higher costs per incident.
Mitigation methods currently at hand are mainly a combination of exclusion fences and fauna passages, but these are costly and can entail considerable environmental impacts on their own. Stakeholders seek therefore cost-effective and flexible alternative or complementary solutions. Some countries now explore acoustic and visual cues to warn wildlife before trains approach. First installations have been made (see NEEL in Poland, pilot studies in France, Germany, Austria, Sweden, and Norway), and first tests in Germany suggest that acoustic devices could be highly cost-effective. However, scientific evaluations are still rare the experiences encourage the further development of this approach. The new SR4W working group shall facilitate collaborative advancement.
We see two complementary lines of development:
– a stationary, railway-based approach (as is currently tested in several countries)
– a mobile, vehicle-based approach (in planning in France and Norway). These approaches involve different stakeholders, different technical solutions and different scientific methods for their evaluation.
Addressing wildlife-railway conflicts effectively, however, demands more than mere technical solutions. It necessitates more comprehensive approaches, from enhanced railway planning and design to operation. Effective incident management and stakeholder communication about wildlife-train collisions are crucial. Video analytic approaches can be a valid tool for the assessment of risks. Also, wildlife concerns can benefit from human safety considerations so that investments in train and rail safety will contribute to safer railways for wildlife.
The SR4W working group seeks to promote communication and direct collaboration among researchers, authorities, corporations, and other stakeholders to more effectively find solutions that can improve railway safety for wildlife.
The WG identifies several important tasks involving the compilation, sharing, analysing of data, developing joint research approaches, and recommending best-practises based on the combined knowledge and experience.
The work with the different tasks will involve different experts and require different backgrounds. Thus, we intend to establish smaller teams or task-groups within the working group that will focus on selected activities such as contributing with data, analysing statistics, writing a report, etc.
Sharing data and setting the stage
A first task for SR4W will consist of exchanging current data on train-animal collisions and mitigation approaches from the different countries. This implies:
- compiling and sharing existing data on train-animal collisions, railway traffic, infrastructure and mitigation measures, wildlife populations, and accident costs;
- helping to improve the reliability of collision data;
- collecting information on best practices for mitigation and case studies;
- developing a harmonized database structure for animal-train collisions that all rail and train operators can use and rely on. (This could be done jointly with the UIC project PAWS, see appendix 1. or maybe also linked to the new application to EURAIL “Symbiosis project”)
Collaborate in research and development
The central task for SR4W will be establishing direct collaboration. Most invited WG partners are already engaged in developing acoustic and/or visual deterrents to keep wildlife from infrastructure. The WG shall provide a platform for collaboration, joining in data analyses, harmonizing experimental approaches, pooling data and results, and exchanging knowledge and experiences. This will enable a more dependable assessment of the prevention methods at reduced expenditures than in individual projects.
Initially, this collaboration will have to rely on the existing nationally funded projects and could be linked to the ongoing PhD and MSc projects.
- Joint analyses of accident statistics, accident costs, trends and patterns, and contributing factors. This analysis will utilize the compiled data from 3.1.1.
- Harmonizing ongoing and planned field studies to analyze the effect of mitigation approaches on accident statistics and animal responses.
- Studying the barrier effect and permeability of railways for wildlife (and hence the need for alternative solutions to fences.
- Identifying stakeholder requirements and technical constraints for implementation, particularly for mobile solutions that interface with train safety systems.
- Collaboration with the UIC Sustainable Land Use Sector (SLU) and its activities (e.g. PAWS project) may also help building a case for a joint research application at EU level.
Apply for joint funding
A necessity for effective long-term collaboration is sufficient funding. The SR4W has presently no funding on its own, all activities must rely on the existing budgets of the WG members. We therefore intend to develop joint applications to European or other funders together with the UIC PAWS project. Possibilities may exist in the follow-up on the BISON-transport project or as a new LIFE-project in 2024. Details of this/these application(s) will have to be developed within the WG during winter 2023.
With joint funding, additional activities could include:
- jointly testing a survey process to monitor collisions records on railways so as to improve the reliability of databases (see the results of COMERCAR research on roads within the ITTECOP programme).
- jointly testing different mitigation devices in different countries (to obtain sufficient data for a sound statistical evaluation)
- developing standards or routines for the reporting, monitoring, handling and management of train collisions with wildlife (and other subjects ? livestock and birds) across European countries.
- Updating existing indicators specific to railway operations, and developing harmonized ones for possible comparison with other modes of transport
Communicate and share knowledge
Important for the successful implementation of mitigation approaches will is the early involvement of key stakeholders such as representatives from private corporations and businesses (infrastructure agencies, train manufacturers, train operators, safety and surveillance companies, or technical consultants).
One obvious challenge will be to manage corporate interests in commercializing their products in relation to or separated from the non-beneficiary partners (authorities, governmental bodies, researchers).
Close collaboration is already initiated with:
The UIC (International Union of Railways) through their proposed new project on the prevention of animal-train collision (PAWS) that will run parallel and with synergetic tasks to the SR4W working group.
The IENE working group on Animal Detection and Driver Warning systems (ADDWS) is looking into comparable road-based systems. The key distinction lies in the approach to mitigating collision risks (warning drivers vs deterring animals). Members of the ADDWS are also joining the SR4W working group.
Develop practical guidance
Eventually, results from the SR4W-activities shall contribute to update the IENE handbook on wildlife and infrastructure with information about best practices for reducing train-animal accidents and increasing safety for rail transport. A practical guide for rail operators and wildlife managers is a desired outcome. This guidance should include not only the use of technology such as acoustic warning systems, but also recommendations for infrastructure habitat management, wildlife monitoring along railways, wildlife management, and incident handling routines for train operators, thus promoting a more inclusive mitigation approach that goes beyond simple technical appliances.
Methods and Tools
The working group activities are strongly related to meeting, sharing data and working collaboratively on the given deliverables. To achieve this, we will use:
- Regular online meetings (Main group: every second month; task-groups may meet more often)
- Shared platform for data exchange (Google, Microsoft)
- Email list
- Workshops and seminars
- online as much as possible, in person when necessary
- joint activities with UIC-SLU
- linked to IENE International Conferences
- Field trips and excursions to explore best practice examples
- Joint research proposals and funding applications
- Online depository for data and document sharing
- Collaborative studies
A list of deliverables will be developed (and adjusted) in the course of the WG activities. Intended main deliverables include:
- Joint scientific paper on wildlife-train collisions in Europe and/or cost-efficacy of mitigation approaches
- Workshop(s): Facilitated Discussion between stakeholders and researchers
- Setting the scene and informing each other about the status quo concerning Wildlife and Railways in different countries: status report?
- Designing and setting goals, priorities and research questions that can be addressed jointly or in harmonized ways within the national budgets.
- Joint proposal (LIFE) to facilitate international collaboration in developing and evaluation mitigation
- Systematic, international data collection based on harmonized database structure and standards for incident reporting
- Best-practice guidelines (contribution to the IENE Wildlife & Traffic Handbook and/or BISON Handbook)
- List of priority topics for further research / development
If you wish to learn more about SR4W or want to join, please contact Andreas Seiler, Andreas.Seiler@slu.se or firstname.lastname@example.org. Non-IENE members are welcome as well as partners from outside Europe !