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Cutting-edge camera technology has been introduced as part of a region-wide pilot by Network Rail and the British Transport Police to reduce disruption at level crossings for motorists and train passengers in Surrey, Hampshire and Sussex.
Network Rail has funded a purpose-built marked police van to be fitted with nine cameras, each of which can use number plate recognition technology to help deter motorists from breaking the law.
One of the cameras is attached to a pole which extends up to ten metres into the air, enabling the van to operate without being right next to the level crossing - particularly important when space is constrained. The van, which is operated by British Transport Police officers, also has access to all the systems required to process prosecutions instantly.
Level crossing misuse remains a big issue for the railway, with daily reports of motorists putting lives at risk, causing major delays for passengers and motorists and costing the industry thousands of pounds.
The new mobile camera technology has been introduced to try and change motorist behaviour and deter them from jumping lights and swerving around barriers and gates.
Ellie Reilly, community safety manager at Network Rail, said:
"It's in everybody's interests to reduce disruption at level crossings. Many people who misuse level crossings know it is wrong and that they are taking a risk, but that doesn't seem to stop them. They think it is a victimless crime, but even if they don't actually damage the crossing, it frequently results in delays to passengers and motorists. The best situation for everyone is that nobody misuses the level crossings and therefore there are no prosecutions. The introduction of the camera vehicle will help deter bad behaviour and misuse."
She added: "This is a good example of how Network Rail is investing in the latest technology to deliver a more cost effective and reliable railway."
Superintendent Andy Ball from the British Transport Police said: "The new camera enforcement vehicle allows officers to target level crossings anywhere in the region and react to a location where misuse is reported by rail staff or members of the public.
"We need to be flexible and are working closely with Network Rail in the Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire areas to safeguard crossing and rail users.
"When people ignore the warnings, there can be fatal consequences. We understand that waiting at a crossing can be frustrating, but warnings including lights and barriers are there to protect the public from an incredibly busy rail network. Incidents can have an impact on any potential person injured by a train collision, their family, train drivers, the local community and train passengers.
"Education is key, informing people of the potential dangers of misusing crossings - and how to use them safely we aim to reduce and prevent incidents at these sites."
The enforcement vehicle operates at level crossings across Kent, Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire on any day of the week. During its first two weeks of operation, 86 people have been prosecuted for misuse. Motorists jumping the red lights accounted for 72 of the offences and pedestrians crossing after the lights and barrier sequence had started accounted for the remaining 14.