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Thought Leadership

Safeguarding rail: how anti-trespassing surveys can help improve safety

Min Read
Stephen Bottom - Director, Building Consultancy

by Stephen Bottom

Director, Building Consultancy


The key role anti-trespassing surveys can play in improving public safety.

Trespassing is a significant issue for the rail sector, not only presenting risks to public safety but also causing delays, financial costs and damage to property. Understandably, the sector is actively implementing a range of measures aimed at addressing the problem, which intensified shutdown periods brought on by the pandemic.

Research indicates that this is a particular issue among youths aged between 11 and 18 years old and has shown that more than a quarter of teenagers admit to behaving in a way that could endanger their life on the railway. One in 10 teenagers admitted to walking along a railway line.

Trespassing has been a problem for many years and Network Rail, working alongside the British Transport Police, has run a successful ‘You vs Train’ campaign since 2018.

In response to this problem, the campaign includes social media, short videos and a website, which originally targeted young people and their parents. The campaign has several objectives: raising public awareness of the dangers and consequences of trespassing and changing people’s attitudes to reduce the likelihood of future trespassing

This campaign has had a positive impact, with youth trespass levels declining by 30% in high-priority locations, and a new phase of the campaign targeting young adults will be launched this summer.

Meanwhile, Network Rail has also launched a digital media campaign reminding adults to ‘Stay off the tracks. Stay safe’.

However, figures from Network Rail showed that trespassers disrupted vital passenger and freight services more than 1,000 times in the first month of the Government’s Covid-19 lockdown. This represents a 25% increase compared to the same period the year before and caused more than 380 hours of delays, with an average of 34 incidents taking place each day.

In a typical year, there is a significant spike in trespassing across the summer holidays from late July to early September, but in 2020, due to the lockdown, there was an earlier increase in trespassing.

The issue of trespassing on rail property has therefore never been more relevant.

The problems extend beyond public safety. Trespassing has an impact on the smooth running of rail services, delaying travel for key workers and disrupting important freight transport, including essential supplies to hospitals and supermarkets.

As rail services increase post-Covid, as well as enforcing critical social distancing measures and implementing more rigorous cleaning and disinfection on board trains and in stations, it is also vital that measures are put in place to reduce the risks posed by trespassing.

As well as the highly successful public awareness campaigns, there are other steps train operating companies can take to improve public safety. Indeed, Great Western Railway commissioned us to conduct anti-trespass surveys across all the stations on its routes – the first survey of its stock in the UK.

The surveys provided GWR with critical information about the existing and potential risks which could occur across their railway estate. This provided the client with data which could then be developed into a strategy to identify and prioritise stations to reduce trespassing on railway lines.

The surveys were commissioned following a Department for Transport request to Great Western Railway to investigate anti-trespass measures at each station. This was particularly crucial at rural stations, many of which are unstaffed and potentially pose the greatest risk.

More than 180 surveys were completed by qualified, experienced surveyors. These identified key areas of risk, reviewed existing safety features and provided the data needed to help the operator tackle trespassers.

The surveys took into account the proximity of nearby schools, housing estates, pubs, playgrounds and bridges. Key considerations also included the potential for anti-social behaviour, the frequency of rail services, the speeds of passing trains, and the ratio of stopping services. Critically, they assessed whether existing safety features, such as platform end fencing and anti-trespass mats to deter people from simply walking off the end of the platform, were adequate.

While trespassing is often seen as a problem caused by young people, less than one-fifth of the incidents during the Covid-19 lockdown involved youngsters, and adults have been more likely to put themselves in danger.

The surveys reflect this, not only focusing on children and youths but also considering vulnerable people and elderly or confused rail users, adults taking shortcuts, populations where English may not be fluent and who may not understand current warning signage, and people with drug and alcohol-related issues, as well as mental health problems.

The assessments made recommendations, outlining mitigation measures and quantifying the effect that these measures would have on reducing risk. Measures include the installation of CCTV, improved signposting, the installation of platform-end fencing, passive supervision and anti-trespass mats. Wider considerations may need to be made on high-speed lines.

The survey was commissioned to improve public safety around railway platforms to reduce incidents of rail trespass, improve safety, reduce damage and loss of life. With train services set to increase, Train Operating Companies (TOCs) throughout the UK will need to assess measures to improve rail safety. Anti-trespass surveys can play a positive role in helping to identify how best to do this. Of course, the next challenge is to ensure that funding is available to ensure that the recommended measures can be properly implemented in this safety-critical industry.

The following article was published in Rail Professional magazine July 2020.

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