Network Rail, with the support British Transport Police and Chiltern Railways, will be taking to the skies this Easter to help combat the major problem of railway crime in the Midlands and Great Western regions.
A helicopter will be patrolling the region throughout Easter and the Summer holidays hunting down vandals who cause misery for thousands of commuters every year by breaking onto railway lines.
The initiative, codenamed Operation Skyhawk, aims to catch trespassers as well as deter youngsters from straying near the tracks during the school holidays.
Fully equipped with a 360 degree zoom camera with thermal imaging, the ‘eye in the sky’ will fly over key problem areas keeping a watch for intruders. Any trespassers that are spotted will then be tracked from above while the police are called. Should anyone be caught on camera, either trespassing or vandalising railway property, then video evidence could be made available to the courts.
Research shows that young teenagers cause much of the damage to tracks and the number of incidents of railway crime often increases during the school holidays.
Network Rail Regional Director Richard Fearn commented: “The railway is not a playground but some people put their lives and the lives of others in danger by trespassing on the tracks.
“We have reduced the number of incidents in the region through a series of initiatives such as patrols and improved fencing but we are anxious to continue this good work. Using the helicopter will enable us to react quicker to any incident that is reported and the video camera means we will have evidence to support any prosecution.”
Stuart Yeatman, External Liaison and Development Manager at Chiltern Railways, said: “Each year the cost of railway crime is immense, running into millions of pounds worth of service delays and damage to infrastructure, as well as risking the lives of passengers, railway staff and offenders. We are confident that Operation Skyhawk will help combat this serious problem".
The use of the ‘eye in the sky’ is the latest in a long line of initiatives designed to reduce the number of criminal incidents on the railways. Other schemes at work include:
· Ongoing fencing programme
· Football in the Community – Network Rail has teamed up with several clubs in the Midlands and the West to raise the profile of rail safety in hot spot locations
· Use of closed circuit television cameras at key railway crime locations. Also use of mobile CCTV cameras
· Operation Scarecrow which operates in the Midlands over the Easter and Summer holiday periods targeting well-known trespass and vandalism hotspots.
· A dedicated schools’ liaison officer who visits schools to warn of the dangers of trespass
· Leaflet drops to homes and shops in hotspot areas
· Junior Citizen Schemes in Reading
Richard Fearn added: “Crime on the railway is of huge concern to us all, and partnership within the industry and outside communities is the key to tackling this major problem. I would urge anyone who sees anything suspicious on railway property to report it to the free, 24-hour hotline number on 0800 40 50 40.”
Top 10 Route Crime Locations in Great Western “Reading Area”
Route crime incidents
Reading (GW Main Line)
Hayes and Harlington
Windsor and Eton Central
Reading Area total figures:
01/02 691 incidents
02/03 496 incidents