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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008, 15:48 GMT
The high cost of railway trespass
Graffiti on train in Essex
Some children are hit by trains after trespassing to spray graffiti

Trespassing on the railway claims the lives of around 60 people a year in Britain, a quarter of them children.

Network Rail says disruption caused by trespass costs the industry about 250m annually and one-in-four accidental deaths involves a person aged between eight and 18.

The rail operator's chief executive, Iain Coucher says some young people use the railway as a playground "because they think they have nothing else to do".

It has launched a joint venture with boxer Amir Khan, who has opened a new gym and community centre in Bolton.

Mr Khan hopes the facility will attract some youngsters who may otherwise trespass on railway lines.

Police officers attend what are incredibly gruesome scenes
Superintendent Colum Price, British Transport Police

He said he wants his gym to provide a safe place for "youngsters to hang out".

"There's no excuse for mucking about on the railway or anywhere else".

According to Network Rail, there are 28 million incidents of trespass on the railways annually - and half of all near misses also involve children.

'Complete lunacy'

Investigating crime on the rail network in Britain is the responsibility of the British Transport Police (BTP).

Supt Colum Price says the force deals with a total of 300 deaths on the railway system each year.

Trains can travel at 125mph
It takes the equivalent length of 20 football pitches to stop
Electricity supplies to cables and rails are always live
Electricity from overhead power lines can arc (jump)

"Police office attend what are incredibly gruesome scenes, high speed trains can spread body parts over a long distance," he said.

"There is no training for officers, they learn by on-the-job experience."

He warns of the many dangers: the live third rail, moving points, and trains that run in different directions along the same section of track.

"It's the most unforgiving environment for anybody to go on, let alone play on - you won't hear a high speed train until it hits you."

One of the most terrifying forms of trespass - especially for train drivers - is "playing chicken", where youngsters deliberately stand in the path of a train travelling at speed, moving out of the way at the last possible moment.

Superintendent Price says such behaviour is "complete lunacy".

Network Rail, meanwhile, says that some train drivers who hit trespassers are "so upset by accidents, they have to give up work".

Train surfing

The BTP warns that trespassing on the railway - on to railway tracks or embankments - can lead to a fine of up to 1,000.

Network Rail says this includes people trying to find a short cut, jumping off platforms to retrieve dropped property and also attempting to "capture" an animal.

It has launched a safety campaign to keep youngsters away from railway lines called No Messin.

Network Rail points out that even wind turbulence caused by a passing train can drag a young person under the wheels of a carriage.

But in many cases, people deliberately venture on the rail lines to commit crimes, including the theft of materials, for example rolls of wire.

Some are involved in anti-social behaviour, including graffiti, and so-called "train surfing" where someone climbs on to the outside of a moving train.

In August 2007, Jason McFarlane, a 19-year-old from Essex, was arrested in Operation Silverback, a BTP initiative targeting graffiti on trains and rail property.

He was sentenced to 250 hours community service, fined 6,450, and received a two-year Anti-social Behaviour Order for eight counts of criminal damage in the Barking, Dagenham and Havering areas of London.

Khan opens gym to help youngsters
10 Jan 08 |  Manchester
Hidden CCTV to catch rail vandals
03 Oct 07 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts
Pupils in 125mph trackside lesson
25 Sep 07 |  West Midlands
Police warn over railway danger
11 Apr 07 |  Nottinghamshire
Helicopter to beat train vandals
02 Aug 06 |  Merseyside

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