Alarming new figures from Network Rail and British Transport Police reveal more people than ever are risking their lives on the rail network by trespassing on the tracks in the south east region.
The data, which looks at trends over the last five years, shows trespass incidents are at all-time high in the region, while nationally one person trespasses and dices with death every hour.
Last year alone there were around 1,118 incidents where people risked their lives on the rail network in the south east – a 17 per cent rise on the previous year.
In Sussex, the statistics show that there were 153 incidents last year compared to 128 incidents in 2012.
Research also shows young people are more likely to take a risk on the tracks, with seasonal peaks in incidents coinciding with the spring and summer school holidays.
Nicola Dooris, Network Rail’s community safety manager, said: “Every April we see a huge rise in the number of people taking a risk on the rail network and it’s worrying that these numbers seem to be going up.
“Britain has the safest railway in Europe, but still too many people lose their lives on the tracks.
“The dangers may not always be obvious but the electricity on the railway is always on and trains can travel up to 125 miles per hour, so even if they see you, they can’t stop in time.
“As the railway gets busier and we electrify more lines to improve services, we must work harder to keep young people safe by making them aware of the dangers.
“It may seem harmless to take a shortcut, or fun to play on the tracks, but this is not only illegal, it is also very dangerous.
It’s not a game: they are real tracks, with real trains and real-life consequences.
“Taking a short cut or messing around on the tracks can result in serious life-changing injuries or death.”
In response to the seasonal surge in incidents and to tackle the problem of youth trespass, Network Rail has launched a schools engagement programme, which aims to teach children in trespass hotspots about railway safety.
The ‘Tackling Track Safety’ programme will be rolled-out to more than 100 schools across Britain, using sport to educate children about the dangers across the network.
In 2016, 12 children in West Sussex and seven children in East Sussex were caught trespassing by police, with boys aged 14 to 16 being stopped the most.
Chief Inspector Sarah White from BTP in the south east said: “We believe the number of children we encounter trespassing every year is sadly, just the tip of the iceberg.
“Every single day we are called to the tracks because a train driver has had to sound their horn or apply their emergency brake in a desperate bid to avoid youths on the line, who then run off, seemingly unaware of the danger they have put themselves in.
“We continue to do all we can to keep youngsters safe by patrolling areas where we know they’re likely to trespass and prevent them from doing so.
“However, we cover thousands of miles of track and we cannot tackle this issue alone.
“That is why we are urging parents and young people to heed this warning and take a reality check when it comes to trespass.
“It’s not a game: they are real tracks, with real trains and real-life consequences.”
New figures also highlight that youth trespass is more prevalent in areas where there is higher socio-economic deprivation.
To help tackle this Network Rail has joined forces with children’s charity Barnardo’s to deliver safety education in specific areas of need and where trespass rates are high.
The organisation will be raising money for the charity and encouraging their staff to volunteer and help deliver these safety events.
To find out how to keep your children safe on the railway this summer, visit www.networkrail.co.uk/trespass or www.btp.police.uk/realitycheck