Rail staff – Guidelines for visiting schools

Students can benefit most from a visit by a subject matter expert when it is combined with in-class lessons over a longer period of time.

School visits

Schools invite rail staff with speak to students in their classes for a variety of reasons, such


• the class is learning about safety around trains, train tracks and level crossings;

• a special event, such as Rail Safety Week;

• the class learning about ‘transport’, ‘careers’ or ‘people in the community’;

• a student in the class has a relative or friend in the rail industry; or

• after a rail safety incident involving one or more of their students.

This can be a daunting experience, particularly if you are not used to public speaking or being around large groups of young people.

Many rail operators have dedicated teams who are trained to visit schools and teach students about rail safety. They can tailor their visit to the needs of the local community. You can contact your employer or a rail operator in your state for school visits.

If you would still like to visit a school on behalf of your organisation, these guidelines have been developed by TrackSAFE Education to help you know what to say; what you should avoid saying; how to be effective in delivering rail safety messages; and how to engage students during your school visit.

What should and shouldn’t I say and do?

1. It is very important to plan your visit beforehand. Stick to the topic and avoid going off on ‘tangents’ about your experiences – students, especially those in primary school, won’t be able understand the point of your visit if you tell them stories about the past which don’t clearly relate to the reason you are there.

2. Regardless of the topic (e.g. jobs, transport, community), encourage students to practice safe skills around trains, train tracks and level crossings – this should be a major focus of any school visit. Ideas for activities are provided in the sample session.

3. It is very important to NOT discuss any fatalities or other traumatic events that you or colleagues may have experienced with primary school or early high school students (as a guide, students up to 13 years old).

4. If, after consulting the teacher, you both agree that discussing fatalities or other traumatic events with a high school group (of 14 years or over) is appropriate, it is important that you choose your words carefully. You should limit what you say when describing your reaction to a traumatic event you have experienced, and the personal consequences to you and/or your family.

5. Positively reinforcing safety messages is the key to improving rail safety skills for students. Some examples are provided.

6. Don’t try to ‘scare’ or ‘shock’ students into staying off tracks by discussing details of what you have seen or heard, or graphic consequences of train collisions. Showing photos or video clips of shocking scenarios or people doing unsafe acts can also have a negative impact. There is a lot of evidence showing that this approach will not influence the behaviours of young people who take risks, and can actually increase risk taking behaviour.

Tips for engaging students

• Speak directly and with the students about your experiences, rather than ‘at or ‘down to’ students; through their teacher or in the third person. Create a two way dialogue if you can.

• Students need to create meaning for themselves, but presentations are generally passive for students and don’t allow this process. Involve the students in your visit by asking them open-ended questions (not questions with a yes/no answer); ask them to act out a scenario to demonstrate a point; do an activity with them; leave them with an activity or task; and ask for their opinions on topics.

• Stick to the topic!

• You can use visual aids such as pictures showing safe actions, or acting out a scene yourself to demonstrate a point. There are photos available on our website for use, or you can use your own.

• Be honest! Students usually see through people, and lose interest, if they do not come across as genuine.

Appropriate language for the classroom

• Use the term ‘students’ rather than ‘kids’ or ‘children’.

• Keep your language ‘G’ rated!

• Turn ‘don’t’, ‘can’t’ or ‘shouldn’t’ statements into ’do’, ‘can’ or ‘should’ statements – this is a more effective way to reach students and leave them with a positive impression.

• Be clear, concise and use appropriate vocabulary for the age of the students. Avoid jargon and explain any tricky train environment words (such as “pedestrian level crossing”) if students are not familiar with the terminology.

• Choose positive action words.

• Speak to students in a respectful tone of voice – they are people too! Avoid babyish language or using a higher pitch.

Preparing for your school visit

Step 1: It is important to check with your employer that you have permission to attend a school and speak with students on their behalf, particularly if you are wearing a uniform.

Step 2: Speak to the teacher about the topic and focus of your visit. Find out the time period allocated and aim to stick to it! Remember to allow some time at the end for questions.

Step 3: Plan for your visit by writing a few main points down (but make sure you don’t read from a script!). Included are some content ideas to plan a session for primary school. Aim to leave students with a positive impression of travelling by train and the rail industry.

Step 4: Prepare your uniform and make sure you are well-groomed – remember you are representing your employer and the rail industry!

Use of positive action words

Ways of reinforcing rail safety messages using positive statements with positive action words:

• ‘At a train station platform, we must walk and stand behind the yellow line. We must only cross the yellow line to get onto the train, when the train is stopped at the platform and the doors open.’

• ‘We must always use a railway bridge, underpass or level crossing to cross to the other side of train tracks.’

• ‘At a pedestrian level crossing, we must STOP at the line or gate, LOOK both ways, LISTEN for trains, THINK “Are the train tracks clear? Is it safe to cross?” If it is clear and safe, cross to the other side.’

• ‘When we are a passenger in a car, we should tell the driver to “STOP, LOOK, LISTEN, THINK!”’

• ‘We must never go onto the tracks. If we drop something onto the tracks, we must ask rail staff for help to get it.’

In summary…

Speak to the teacher and get a clear focus for your visitUse ‘shock’ or ‘fear’ to get your point across
Plan your visit, including what you will say and doTell ‘war stories’
Include rail safety messages in any school visitTalk about fatalities or other traumatic events
Stick to the topicShow images or video clips showing shocking images or unsafe actions
Use positive messages with positive action wordsGo off topic
Actively involve students in the sessionDiscuss things which are not within your job role or authority
Keep language ‘G’ ratedDiscuss things which are not within your employer’s ethical guidelines or standard operating procedures
Keep the content relevant and appropratie to the students, their context and their ageTalk ‘at’ or ‘down to’ students
Make sure students will be left feeling positive about rail

Further information and resources

Any school visit is much more effective when it is accompanied with pre‐ and post‐visit learning activities. TrackSAFE Education has primary and high school rail safety teacher resources, and rail safety resources and information for parents, members of the community and rail staff on this website. Children of all ages can also access the primary and high school student sections of our website, which contain information and an extensive media library to complement the lessons.

Download a printable version