Hamilton Ontario - Scott Lee-Kowal chats on his cellphone as he walks down a section of railway where an eight-year-old girl lost her leg to a passing train last week in east Hamilton.
Lee-Kowal is aware of the horrific accident, but says he pays close attention to his surroundings when he takes the shortcut between Cumberland Avenue and Main Street East.
"I see them basically before they get close enough to do any harm," said the 21-year-old on his way to work Thursday afternoon, noting he's walked the track for about eight years.
This section of the Canadian Pacific Railway (CP) industrial line also attracts children, who have easy access via alleys to unfenced legs of track.
This is why some in the neighbourhood just west of Gage Park are calling for a fence to keep kids from horsing around on the line and prevent more tragedies.
"There are too many kids living on the street," said Carol Ann Price, who lives on Balsam Avenue South, which runs alongside the tracks.
"It hits close to home," said Price about last week's tragedy.
She has grandchildren.
Railways are responsible for the safety of infrastructure, equipment, and operations under the Railway Safety Act.
But that doesn't specifically include fencing.
However, Transport Canada "encourages railways to collaborate with all interested stakeholders" to improve safety, spokesperson Annie Joannette said.
Trains barrelling down tracks in densely populated urban areas isn't a new phenomenon.
It's been an issue for decades as Canadian cities grew around rail lines.
Coun. Matthew Green, whose Ward 3 includes the neighbourhood, agrees a fence should be there to protect youngsters from trains on the Cumberland-Main line.
But a more robust public awareness campaign is also key, Green suggested.
"People get lulled into a sense of safety where they can play around these spaces, but that's not the case, they're lethal."
Police have said they're not certain what the girl was doing on the track but noted she fell and was struck around 18:00 last Thursday.
A quick-thinking police officer used a tourniquet to stem blood flow before paramedics rushed the girl to hospital, where her leg was amputated.
CP said its police service continues to investigate the accident, but declined to comment further.
Gerald Guillemette, an area resident who recalled how he called 911 when he saw the girl, said he's still shaken by the scene.
"It was not pretty."
The 28-year-old said children have played around the track and nearby alley for years.
"That place has never been fenced off."
The city-owned alley, which can be accessed at Afton Avenue, leads to a grassy patch of land that ends at the rail line.
As the line heads northeast through neighbourhoods to such industries as the steel plants, there are other points of access.
The city estimates there are roughly 350 kilometres of "centreline" rail in Hamilton.
Canadian National (CN) says, on average, six of its trains a day travel more than 50 kilometres of tracks in the area.
CP didn't provide similar figures.
Its Kinnear rail yard is just south of Gage Park and Lawrence Road.
CN spokesperson Jonathan Abecassis said the company issues hundreds of trespassing tickets a year in Hamilton.
Trespassing is a growing problem across Canada, said Sarah Mayes, national director of Operation Lifesaver, an organization dedicated to improving rail safety.
Mayes noted 53 people were killed and 23 were seriously injured in trespassing incidents last year.
"The tragic thing is that virtually all of these incidents could be prevented."
Operation Lifesaver launched an awareness campaign last year called "Look. Listen. Live." in addition to its efforts at schools and community events.
Mayes said parents should impart rail safety messages, just like buckling your seatbelt, and "model" good behaviour when it comes to trains.
In 2013, a study on Canada's rail network pointed to ways safety could be improved through better municipal planning.
Guidelines for New Development in Proximity to Railway Operations recommends a 30 metre setback for buildings constructed near rail lines with fences and berms.
"The mistakes that were of yesterday in urban planning, we see them today," said Cynthia Lulham, project manager for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and Railway Association of Canada Proximity Initiative.
Lulham, also a councillor in Montreal, said her city was the first to fold the report's recommendations into its planning practices.
Other cities have followed suit.
Hamilton city staff consult with railways to determine if they have any comments or conditions for proposed developments, said planning director Steve Robichaud.
The official plan stipulates that all projects by railways require safety measures such as setbacks, berms, and fencing to the city's "satisfaction."
Lulham acknowledged the challenge of rail safety in built-up areas, but suggested redevelopment that sees industrial changed to residential, or single-family homes to condos, could present opportunities for better planning.