Infrabel deploys AI cameras at railway crossings for safety

Track runners and incidents at level crossings cause more than 12 hours of delays every day on the entire Belgian rail network. To improve safety at level crossings and train punctuality, rail network manager Infrabel is now using artificial intelligence (AI).

By the end of this year, 70-level crossings will be equipped with AI cameras that can detect stationary people or vehicles and raise the alarm. It involves an investment of some 700,000 euros.

Highest level of incidents in the past five years

In 2023, there were 31 accidents and 324 incidents at Belgian level crossings, and 632 reports of track running. These caused, on average, more than 12 hours of train delays per day, or 4,500 hours last year, the highest level in the past five years.

“Track runners and incidents at level crossings are the main cause of delays,” Infrabel chief Benoît Gilson said at the presentation of the national action plan. “Nobody would think of crossing a highway, but every day, people are crossing the tracks,” Gilson said. “It is difficult to fight such people, who know the risks but want to take them anyway. We are not responsible for their behavior, but we do take responsibility for improving safety and punctuality.”

Detect people or vehicles standing still

To combat the phenomenon—a survey showed that while the vast majority know the rules, almost half are still willing to walk on the track, for example, because it saves time—Infrabel has now rolled out an action plan. One of the most striking novelties is AI cameras.

They can detect people or vehicles standing still for a long time (15 to 30 seconds) at an open-level crossing, for example, due to traffic jams. An alarm then follows at the signal box, allowing traffic controllers to assess the situation. If necessary, they can stop train traffic locally.

The cameras were tested last year at level crossings in Mortsel and Namur and had good results. There were an average of 20 monthly detections at each location, and there was no false detection. In the coming months, the AI cameras will be rolled out to 70 level crossings—there are more than 1,600—where there are regular traffic jams. Congestion is the cause of almost 40% of accidents at level crossings.

More suicide attempts

Infrabel will also install more fences against track walking, equip all level crossings with a sticker bearing the emergency number 1711, install additional systems to detect track walkers at level crossings and tunnels, and install additional road markings at level crossings.

Systems to prevent suicide (attempts) at various stations, such as barriers, lighting, and cameras, are also among the measures. The number of suicides on the railways has remained stable in recent years. Still, the number of attempts has tripled in ten years; according to Infrabel – Infrabel and NMBS/SNCB are reluctant to release data on train suicides because this leads to copycat behavior, according to suicide prevention associations.

Awareness campaign

Furthermore, Infrabel will also focus on raising awareness through campaigns. For instance, a campaign specifically aimed at truck drivers, a risk group at level crossings in the ports, will be launched.

Control actions will also be taken with the police to catch offenders in the act. In that context, Infrabel proposes that minors who are caught running on the tracks will not be issued an official report but will follow a mediation process.

Finally, by the end of the year, “Access to Railway” will be operational. This application is intended for emergency services. It will indicate to them, with geolocation support, the easiest access to reach an accident zone, with the aim, once again, of sharpening the intervention time—an intervention during a collision involving a human being takes, on average, three hours and a half.

Recently, Infrabel invested 80 million euros in new sensors for safer, more punctual trains.


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