Trespassing – A Growing Problem For The UK Railway

Members of the public trespassing onto the track has been an issue faced by the rail industry for many years, and according to a recent article by the BBC the number of people venturing onto train lines has begun to reach worryingly high levels.

Figures from Network Rail and The British Transport Police published in the article show that in 2016 alone, over 8,000 trespassing incidents were recorded (the highest number to date) and some 115 people have been killed on the UK railway system over the last five years. Trespassing is one of the biggest contributors to UK rail fatalities as the result of individuals either being struck by a train or from electrocution following contact with trackside equipment.

The most obvious danger of venturing onto a railway line is the possibility of encountering a train traveling at high speed. Compared to emergency braking in a car, a train cannot stop on a dime nor do they have the ability to swerve to avoid a collision. In fact when traveling at speed it can take the average 8-car passenger train around a mile to come to a complete stop when traveling at a speed of 80 mph.

A slightly more silent danger is the electrically charged third conductor rail fitted to certain track sections. These conductor rails carry a 750V electrical charge, used to provide trains with electrical traction power. By trespassing onto these track sections, people run the risk of coming into contact with these conductor rails and as such increase the probability of a fatal accident occurring.

Rail organisations across the globe have hosted numerous rail safety campaigns to try and raise awareness of the dangers that come with trespassing onto railway lines. The most recent notable rail safety campaign is the Dumb Ways To Die campaign implemented by Metro Trains Melbourne (MTM) in 2012. As seen in the video below MTM utilised a memorable tune, recognisable characters and an addictive smartphone app to try and promote rail safety to a younger target audience.


Other safety campaigns from recent years include:

  • Tackling Track Safety – Network Rail
  • “Don’t be a Dur Brain!” – KiwiRail
  • See Tracks? Think Train! – Association Of American Railroads
  • Rail Safety Week

So why is it that despite all these warnings the number of trespassing incidents continues to increase year after year? According to the article the most common reason given by offenders as to why they decided to encroach on the rail track is that it allows them to take a shortcut. In America the number of people taking shortcuts across railway tracks to take a shortcut on their daily journey was considered a big enough concern that in 2014 it became the focus of the ‘Don’t Shortcut Your Life’ campaign by MTA.


The failure of campaigns such as Don’t Shortcut Your Life and Dumb Ways To Die begins to raise the question can technology make an impact where word of mouth and advertising fall down?

This question was the focus of the 2014 feasibility study, funded by the RSSB, that Zircon were given the opportunity to take part in. Zircon’s role in this study was to investigate the possibility of utilising the CCTV feed from cameras fitted to the front of trains to detect unauthorised human presence within the track boundary line. Zircon were able to successfully prove that such a solution was possible and are currently in the process of patenting and further developing it.

Looking on into the future, by giving rail staff and policing bodies the ability to identify unauthorised presence in real-time, Zircon’s solution has the potential to make a real difference in reducing the number of lives lost as a result of trespassing onto the UK network.