Childrens Safety At Risk On The Rails

15 July 2010, 11:33 | Updated: 15 July 2010, 11:53

Young lives in Surrey and Hampshire are being put at risk every day by criminal behaviour new figures released by Network Rail reveal.

There were 340 recorded incidents of trespass and vandalism in the last year* involving young people taking short cuts, throwing missiles at trains, spraying graffiti, playing chicken with trains or placing objects on the tracks. All put their lives – and in some cases the lives of others – at risk. The true figure is expected to be much higher with many incidents going unreported.

As the summer holidays begin, Network Rail is encouraging young people to take up more positive activities and not put themselves at risk of serious injury or worse, by taking unnecessary risks on the tracks. Its No Messin’ campaign, which works with local community groups and clubs across Britain, is fronted by world boxing champion Amir Khan.

Amir Khan spoke of his continued support for the No Messin’ campaign: “Young people need to know that playing chicken or throwing stones at trains won’t get you respect or win you real friends. Working with Network Rail in community clubs I’ve seen how young people can get a real kick out of learning something new like boxing or other sports and how positive encouragement can steer them off the tracks and onto a better path.”

The most shocking examples include:

- 118 incidents of objects, such as stones and bricks and even fireworks (Romsey)being thrown at trains

- 149 reports of trespass, including playing chicken and taking shortcuts

- 6 incidents of graffiti

- a laser pen being shone into the eyes of a train driver at Basingstoke

- an air rifle being fired at a train near Hilsea and at Winchester

- a catapult being used to shoot debris at a train in Portsmouth & Southsea

- grass on the embankments being set on fire at Andover and Bitterne

The whole ‘kitchen sink’ has been placed on the tracks– many causing costly damage to trains and delays to services.  They include:

- 19 bikes/tricycles/scooters (Bitterne, Brockenhurst, Eastleigh x 2, Farncombe, Fratton, Frimley, Hook x 2, Leatherhead x 2, Portchester, St Deny’s x 2, Totton x 2, West Byfleet x 2, Winchfield)

- 4 shopping trolleys (Guildford x 2, Winchester x 2)

- vacuum cleaner (Fratton)

- ramp to assist disabled passengers (Hinton Admiral).  The ramp was placed on the electric third-rail, resulting in injuries to two people

- road signs (Liss, New Milton, Winchester)

- wheelie bins (Petersfield, Swathyling, Winchester)

- concrete blocks (Chandlers Ford)

- plastic greenhouse (Farncombe)

- blackboard (Sholing)

- traffic cones (Woolston)

- bags of rubbish (Cosham, Portsmouth & Southsea)

- ‘for sale’ sign (Farncombe)

Leighton Walford, from Fareham, Hampshire, is supporting No Messin’ after his girlfriend died when she touched the electrified rail as they took a short cut across the tracks.  He said: “Many people think this will never happen to them but it can, it happened to us.  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. I hope that by telling my story, I can prevent others from risking their life and the lives of others.”

Nationally, a shocking 49 people died after trespassing on the tracks in the last year; with a quarter of trespass fatalities young people aged 11-20. Whilst adults commit more crimes, young people take more risks and their actions are more dangerous – such as playing chicken and graffiti spraying in hard to reach locations. Adult crimes tend to be more platform-to-platform trespass and taking short cuts.

Whilst these figures are alarming, the No Messin’ campaign, now in it’s fifth year, is seeing some success with a 32% reduction in reported crimes by young people.*

Richard O’Brien, Network Rail’s route director for Wessex said: “It’s good to see the number of incidents involving young people coming down, but far too many continue to risk their lives by taking a misguided short cut or worse, deliberately messing around on the tracks. Unlike cars, trains cannot swerve and can take the length of 20 football pitches to stop. Contact with electricity power lines and tracks can result in horrific injuries, burns or even death. We want to prevent such incidents and help young people find more rewarding and exciting ways to spend their free time.”

British Transport Police Inspector Mick Morriss said: “BTP officers continue to work closely with Network Rail and train operating companies across the country to educate young people about the dangers of going near the railway line.

“Our message is simple: the railway is not a playground – stay safe and stay out of trouble. Every year we see people risking their lives either by careless actions, such as taking a shortcut across the tracks or by playing on or near the line.

“Anyone who messes around near the tracks is not only risking a court appearance, they are putting their lives at risk.”