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Trespass an overview

Train travel is very safe, but the railway tracks themselves are not safe places. When people trespass on the railway, this can lead to life-ending or life-changing injuries, as well as heartache, trauma, and harm to family, friends and rail staff.  The message is simple: stay off the tracks.

Every year, members of the public intentionally trespass on the railway, putting themselves and others in harm’s way. This not only endangers the person trespassing, but also has an impact on train drivers and other rail staff. The rail industry wants to reduce the risk, through public engagement and by sharing research, case studies and current practice.

The term “trespass” reflects the fact that it is illegal for members of the public to be on the railway track. However, this doesn’t necessarily do justice to how reckless people are when they go onto the railway, nor how much risk they’re putting themselves in. Trespassers do not expect to come to harm – but they do – with either life-changing or life-ending injuries, and with huge impacts on others around them.

In 2017/8, 36 people died as a result of trespassing on the railway.

Trespass fatalities chart

Certain groups are more prone to trespass than others – boys at secondary school-age running into early 20s are most likely to stray onto the railway. But trespassers and their motives will vary. For some it will be the very idea of going somewhere they shouldn’t that may appeal, but for others, it may be a tempting shortcut or to retrieve something. Trespassers can be male or female, and any age.

Industry works together and engages in a number of initiatives to address trespass risk. This is a challenging area as ultimately the decision to go on to the railway is down to the individual person, and something that the railway can only indirectly control through a combination of engineering, education and enforcement. However, it is possible to prevent trespass, or at least reduce the number of incidents, by a range of techniques.

Engineering

In most cases, it will be an effort to actually get on to the railway because of physical barriers.

In some locations, the natural environment is enough of a barrier, particularly if the railway is running across water or at height. Likewise, sometimes the built environment provides enough of a barrier.

Where the railway is potentially accessible by people, the lines are fenced to an appropriate standard. The infrastructure manager will have an obligation to do this. On the mainline running railway, it’s likely that this will be Network Rail’s responsibility, but in other locations such as depots and sidings it could be a different organisation.
In addition to physical barriers, signs will be placed to make it clear that the public are not permitted to trespass on the railway, and highlight the potential risks of doing so. This will be the case at the ends of platforms on stations, but will also feature at level crossings and at most access points and fencing where appropriate.

Education

The railway engages with the public to raise awareness of the risks and try to dissuade would-be trespassers from coming on to the railway. Particular attention is given to schools, youth organisations and others working with children and young people.

Network Rail, train operating companies and British Transport Police all engage with local communities to ensure there is an open door and an ongoing conversation to help raise awareness of the issues.

Industry also embarks on campaigns using advertising and social media. While aimed at certain key target groups, these get exposure across wide audiences and help reinforce positive behaviour among everybody. 

Enforcement

Trespassing on the railway is illegal and so, if caught, offenders can find themselves of interest to British Transport Police. This is especially the case in situations where trespass is combined with other crimes on the railway, such as graffiti and vandalism. In some situations, rail companies will look into prosecuting trespassers.

Trespass Improvement Programme

The railway has a number of cross-industry groups that look at trespass risk, monitor the trends in incidents and harm, and consider appropriate action. They also help individual companies to share good practice and join forces on initiatives such as research and engagement campaigns.
RSSB helps join up the various activities under the Trespass Improvement Programme.

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