Hit the hiking trails, but stay off the tracks

Fall is the perfect time to get out and explore our country’s natural beauty on foot. And in Canada, there are plenty of hiking trails to choose from. In fact, The Great Trail, formerly known as the Trans-Canada Trail, is the longest recreational, multi-use trail network in the world. It stretches from coast-to-coast, spanning more than 22,000 kilometres.

But whether hiking a section of The Great Trail, or exploring your local conservation area, park, or any other greenspace, it’s critical that you follow certain rules—including the rail safety basics. 

“The number one rule is to stay off railway tracks,” says Sarah Mayes, National Director of Operation Lifesaver. “It’s extremely dangerous to hike or walk on tracks—or even alongside them. Staying clear is the only safe option.”

Remember, railway tracks are private property, not public hiking trails. It’s illegal to walk on them unless you’re using a designated crossing. And even tracks look abandoned, it doesn’t mean they aren’t in use. No tracks can ever be assumed to be abandoned unless they are clearly marked as safe and inactive. Often, tracks that have been deactivated can also be reactivated.

Trains also travel in both directions and at all times of the day and night. You never know when a train might be coming along the tracks. It’s especially dangerous when wearing headphones; they can prevent you from hearing a train coming or its warning whistle. 

So, before you head off on your next hiking adventure, follow these simple rules to stay safe: 

Respect all the rules. Stay on marked trails and off private property, including all railway tracks. Only cross tracks at designated crossings and obey all railway warning signs and signals.

Plan your trip. Plan the route you will take and avoid one that takes you near or across active railway tracks. 

Tell someone your plans.  Make sure someone knows your route and leave a time/date to raise the alarm if you haven't returned.

Be aware of the weather. Canada’s weather can be highly unpredictable. Check the forecast and expect weather changes. 

Take sufficient supplies. Make sure you have enough food, clothing, equipment and emergency rations for the worst-case scenario. Take an appropriate means of communication.

Remember, safety is everyone’s responsibility. When hitting the hiking trails this fall, be rail-smart: Look, listen and live.