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“All I remember was a thud and being on the floor and then there was just this horrendous smell of burnt hair and skin… I accepted it. I just knew I was going to die.” Chris Dos Santos

This quote, as shocking as it is, was taken from a survivor who had stepped on the third rail whilst taking a shortcut home, sending a 750-volt shock through his entire body. And he isn’t the only one; the number of recorded incidents on the UK’s railway has risen by just over 32% between 2011 and 2019.

  • People seeking to trespass very rarely have malicious intentions, with the main cause being to save time and create a shortcut. But how quickly can this shortcut turn into an inconvenience of epic proportions? When Simon Munn decided to take a shortcut across the tracks, he didn’t expect it to change his life forever. He attempted to cross the tracks instead of walking an extra 5 minutes to a safe crossing, but instead got his foot caught and was unable to move. This resulted in Simon having his leg amputated and spending weeks in hospital after he was hit by a train. But he was lucky. He was still alive. Dangers on the railway lines aren’t as simple as people think. Surprisingly, a 185 ton train travelling at 125mph can move near enough silently, until it’s too late, making it a silent killer. But many consider it safe if they can see there is no train. They don’t take into account the electricity that is constantly pulsing through the tracks.

    However, the creation of a shortcut isn’t the only reason for trespassing on the UK’s railway lines. Shockingly, many children, teenagers and young adults have been found playing and exploring on active lines; contributing to the high numbers of incidents found in 2018-19. Research found that trespassing incidents are higher during school holidays like summer and during the festive break. Combining this with the sudden rise in urban exploration rates; equalling to the scarily high numbers of child and teen incidents over the past few years.

  • When trespassing, whether it be to play on the lines or to get home quicker, does anyone think about the trauma emotionally and financially it can have on the train drivers and the entirety of the system? Unlike road vehicles, trains can’t swerve or hit the brakes hard to avoid a pedestrian. All they can do is sound the horn, pull the emergency brake… and hope the individual gets out of the way in time. The protocol for a collision with an individual is to take the driver out of the situation immediately, with time off work and counselling offered to them. This can have a serious impact on their health and can cause unforeseen financial problems. However, this incident not only affects the drivers but has a knock on effect for the whole rail network. Delays are caused throughout, passengers requesting compensation and ultimately costing Network Rail millions to get the rail system back to normal.

    So what are the penalties for those found trespassing on train tracks? Network Rail state trespassing can lead to a maximum £1,000 fine and could result in a court hearing. Is this a tough enough penalty for this potentially fatal action? With a rise of 1.4% in 2018-19 from last year, it’s apparent this penalty hasn’t deterred individuals, as people still risk their lives.

In order to combat trespassing on our railways, the Government are implementing an initiative to improve railway safety. Working with Network Rail, they are looking for organisations to help implement systems to deter trespassers.

Infographic showing statistics on railway safety in the UK

We know this is a good start to an ever growing problem, alongside increased awareness about the dangers of trespassing. But is this enough? The hot topic is asking the question; why is a shortcut worth a risk to your life? Is an extra 5, 10 or even 30 minutes’ walk worth the repercussions, trespassing on Britain’s railway lines can have?

Link to download PDF.

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