Network Rail issues safety warning after figures show over 1,100 people trespassed on the railway in Sussex last year
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Latest figures show there were 1,152 trespass incidents across Network Rail’s Sussex route in the last financial year (2022-23), representing a 4% increase on the previous year.
Network Rail works closely with the British Transport Police (BTP) and local schools to educate children and their parents and carers on the dangers of trespassing on the railway and patrol key problem areas. As a result, the number of trespass incidents involving young people under the age of 18 (211) has reduced by 6%.
However, trespass remains a huge problem with thousands of incidents recorded each year across the country. Though last year saw a drop in the number of trespass incidents involving young people, overall trespass numbers remain too high – almost one for every mile of track in the country - and are yet to drop to the levels recorded in the pre-Covid years.
Across the rail network in England, Wales and Scotland, there were 18,517 incidents, 20% of which (around 3,700) involved young people under the age of 18.
These figures have been released by Network Rail as part of the You vs Train campaign to highlight the dangers of railway trespass this summer.
This year marks the sixth anniversary of the death of Harrison Ballantyne, who was electrocuted while trying to retrieve a football from the railway. The 11-year-old was struck by 25,000 volts of electricity after trespassing into a rail freight yard more than a mile away from his home.
Across Network Rail’s Sussex route, trains are powered by the third rail which contains 750 volts – easily enough to kill or seriously injure – and is on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As part of this campaign Harrison’s mother – Liz Ballantyne – has joined forces with Network Rail and the BTP to ask that parents and carers talk to their children about the dangers present on the railway, as a matter of priority, as the school holidays begin.
The last day of his life has been turned into a new video campaign to show just how dangerous the railway can be.
Ms Ballantyne said: “The summer holidays should be about freedom and I always encouraged Harrison to go out and have adventures.
“I taught him about ‘stranger danger’ and to be careful around water, but I just hadn’t realised that I needed to teach him about rail safety as there was no railway station near our village. I learnt of its importance too late, but I don’t want others to suffer as I have.
“Please sit down with your children and loved ones and talk to them about the dangers present around, the railway so they know how to keep themselves safe whilst they are out having fun.”
Katie Sumner, Network Rail’s Sussex route crime and security manager, said: “We’re committed to ensuring the safety of our passengers, staff and the public when using the railway and trespass poses a clear and obvious danger with the possibility of resulting in life changing if not fatal consequences.
“It’s important to remember that some of the dangers on the railway aren’t always visible. Trains across our Sussex route are powered by the third rail which carries more than enough electricity to kill or seriously injure and is always on 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We work extremely hard with the BTP, train operator colleagues and the wider community to highlight the risks of trespassing on the railway so it’s disappointing to see trespass still remains an issue.
“However, it is pleasing to see the reduction in the number trespass incidents involving young people under the age of 18 which is testament of colleagues’ efforts in raising awareness and educating children and parents about the dangers of trespassing.”
BTP Superintendent Alison Evans added: "As the summer holidays approach we urge parents and carers of young people to talk about trespass and rail safety and warn them of the dangers of straying onto the railway.
"We continue to share Harrison's story in the hope that it will resonate with others and make a difference.
"The rail network can be a deadly place; trespassing can result in devastating injuries or death. Please spread the word to stay off the tracks - it could just save a life."
Samantha Facey, safety, health and security director at Govia Thameslink Railway, added: “It’s concerning that we’ve seen an increase in the number trespass incidents across our network and as we enter the school summer holidays it’s more important than ever to remind people just how dangerous it is to approach live railway lines.
“We work closely with Network Rail and the BTP and carry out regular talks with schools across our network to emphasise the importance of rail safety, but safety is everybody’s responsibility.
“What could be seen as a bit of harmless fun could have devastating consequences so if you witness members of the public messing around near railway tracks, please report it to a member of staff immediately. It could save someone’s life.”