Case Synopsis

While visiting a local school, the mayor of London was asked a simple question by a grade three student: “why aren’t there flashing light barriers at all railway crossings that are close to the places where children play?” The mayor did not have an answer to this question or the many other questions that went along with it, but he knew something needed to be done. But what? And by whom? Rail crossings in London are typically prone to risk. In Canada, only 17% of all 17,000 railway crossings have gates, and the primary purpose of these gates is to control motor vehicles. London residents remain frustrated by the delays caused at rail crossings on busy commuter roads. Residents are also concerned about the lack of safety mechanisms at smaller, low-traffic streets. Trains fall into a jurisdictional triangle. Many organizations, local municipalities, and provincial and federal ministries are involved in building and overseeing railways. All parties must work collaboratively to improve safety on the more than 17,000 rail crossings across the country. Decisions about how to move forward with this issue are complex and require mass consultation from government agencies such as Transport Canada and from railroad companies such as Canadian National Railway, Canadian Pacific Railway, and VIA Rail Canada. Pedestrians need to be educated about the dangers of crossing railway tracks. Railway police often give presentations to children and educate them about the risks associated with public rail crossings and trespassing on railway property. In recent years, the number of railway police officers has declined. Cities such as London are no longer able to have police at rail sites. Something needs to change in the City of London and the surrounding area to improve rail safety and prevent further tragedies. Operation Lifesaver believes more education and awareness will help. Community members are pushing for the installation of more active systems but spending more money on rail safety is not always politically favourable. What needs to be done, and by whom, remains uncertain. With so many organizations and groups involved, it is difficult to determine who should ultimately be responsible for this dilemma. Because the reality of train safety in London is not changing, the need to address the concerns about this issue is essential. Unfortunately, London has several dangerous rail crossings that lack gates or other physical barriers to block the crossing. The main concern is the safety of pedestrians at these sites.

Case Objectives

  1. Appreciate the complexity of municipal-level decision-making.
  2. Learn about strategies for effective health communication campaigns.
  3. Understand the role of multiple stakeholders across multiple jurisdictions in health promotion interventions.

Case Study Questions

  1. Who are the stakeholders involved in decision-making at the municipal level? How does this change when provincial and federal policies impact the decision?
  2. Who is responsible for railway safety? Does this change whether it is for pedestrians, automobiles, or other types of trains? Should it?
  3. What might a railway safety health education campaign look like? What would your messaging look like? Who would your audience be? Who could you get to support your campaign?
  4. What should be done in the City of London to improve overall railway safety? Be sure to consider the feasibility of your suggestions, including issues related to cost, timing, and public support.


Health promotion, municipal government, pedestrian safety, railway, stakeholder analysis

Additional Author Information

Faculty submission - Shannon L. Sibbald is an Assistant Professor with Western University



Recommended Citation

Sibbald, S. L. (2020). When the Midnight Train is the first of many: Dealing with Irregular and Unsafe Railway Crossings in the City of London in: McKinley, G. & Speechley, M. [eds] Western Public Health Casebook 2020. London, ON: Public Health Casebook Publishing.