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Network Rail has released a hard-hitting video about the severe consequences of trespassing or messing about near the railway.
It's after a new survey reveals two thirds of parents in the south east have not discussed railway safety with their children. Furthermore, a quarter of mums and dads believe popular myths such as being protected from electric current by rubber soled shoes or that you wouldn't be hurt if you only touched power lines for less than two seconds. Half don't know that the electricity is on all the time.
As the summer holidays begin and with over 264 reports of trespassing and vandalism in Hampshire and 91 reports in Dorset last year, Network Rail has launched the powerful video to specifically highlight the dangers of electricity. Tragically, six people were electrocuted in the south east between April 2010 and March 2011 after coming into contact with the "third rail."
The video features a skin biology specialist and a Network Rail electrical engineer, sending a stark message about the power of the current used to run trains and the consequences of coming into contact with it. Mixed with graphic images of people who have suffered burns, the experts talk about how the power used in overhead wires is ten-times more powerful than an electric chair, and recount stories of people who have had their clothes set alight and the coins in their pockets melt.
Leighton Walford, from Southampton, Hampshire, is supporting Network Rail's campaign after his girlfriend died when she tripped and came into contact with the electrified rail as they took a short cut across the tracks. He said:
"Like many other young people, we were enjoying a night out with friends. Someone in the group suggested we take a shortcut home along the railway. As we were walking along, I looked back and saw Sammy trip and fall onto the line. We ran back to help her, but there was nothing we could do and she stopped breathing as I held her in my arms.
"We thought something like this could never happen to normal people like us, but it can. I know how badly taking a short cut along the tracks can end, it resulted in a very special person losing her life and I'll regret it for the rest of mine. By telling my story, I hope others will not make the same bad decisions as we made and risk losing their lives or causing life-changing injuries."
Richard O'Brien, Network Rail's route managing director for Wessex, said:
"Thankfully the number of people killed or hurt on the railways is coming down but every death or injury is preventable. As our video and story shows, receiving an electric shock is horrific and could affect you for the rest of your life, if you're lucky not to be killed.
"Our community safety teams work tirelessly with young people across Britain to warn them of the dangers and encourage them to get involved in safer and more positive activities. However, we are concerned that many parents are very much in the dark about the dangers of trespassing or playing near the railway. Even though the majority of trespassers aren't hurt, these crimes are not harmless and can result in huge delays and costs. We hope that by getting out this stark warning we can help banish the myths about rail safety and ultimately save lives."
The Network Rail survey of parents in the south east also revealed:
- Around one in twelve admitted they had messed about on the railway or trespassed by taking a shortcut across it
- 13% think that most of the time trespassing on the railway is harmless or that only people who don't take care get hurt, this despite most knowing it's wrong
- 42% don't know that trains can be powered by electric rails and more than five in 10 don't know they can draw their power from overhead lines.
- Nearly half (49%) didn't know that the third rail power line is switched on all the time
- 12% thought that overhead power lines and the third rail only had electricity running through them when a train passes through
- Of the 64% that have not talked to their children about rail safety, nearly half said it was because they didn't live near the railway. 19% didn't think it was important or much of a risk.
- Of the 34% that had talked to their children about rail safety, two thirds did so because they understood the risks and consequences involved. A further 6% knew of someone who had been killed or hurt on the railway.
- Encouragingly 72% knew that trespassing on the railway is a criminal offence which carries penalties. Although 5% thought that under 18s couldn't be prosecuted and 3% believe that parents can't be held responsible for their children's actions, which they can.
Inspector Mick Morriss, British Transport Police, said:
"Trespass sounds like a pretty harmless crime, but it isn't. One of the worst jobs a police officer has to do is break it to a parent that their child has been seriously injured, disfigured for life or killed; and it's so unnecessary. A little thought by parents and carers will save us having to make that painful visit.
"Our main concern is safety but we will also do everything in our power to prosecute anyone caught deliberately obstructing the railway or trespassing on the tracks and endangering people's safety, with the maximum penalty being life imprisonment.
"Trains can't swerve and they can't stop suddenly. The message we are sending to youngsters is simple - stay safe and stay out of trouble."
Gary Cooper, head of operations at the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), said:
"People playing on or near railways not only put themselves in serious danger of injury, they also cause disruption affecting thousands of passengers trying to go to work, visit friends or travelling for their business.
"We don't want people hurt and we know how important running trains on time is to our customers. This is why train companies are working with the rest of the industry to keep people safe and to ensure record numbers of trains arrive on time."