Helicopter crews have stepped up patrols on the south east’s railway lines as trespassing hits a six-year high.
Previously Network Rail’s helicopter and crew spend most of their time flying over the country’s 20,000 miles of railway, looking for potential faults or alerting local team to downed trees.
But this summer, the helicopter has also been helping keep the South East’s railway running smoothly by looking for trespassers and other criminals on the tracks.
Andy Derbyshire, Network Rail’s chief operating officer in the South East, said: “Crime on the railway delays passengers, hurts the economy and costs the rail industry millions of pounds every year. That’s money that we’d all much rather was spent on maintaining and improving the network.
“We know that the summer months see an increase in trespassing. With the major work we have going on this coming August bank holiday, we need to use every tool at our disposal to keep any disruption to passengers to a minimum.
“Our helicopter will be patrolling known crime hotspots and this coming weekend – August 19-20 – they’ll be taking a British Transport Police officer up with them. The officer will be able to directly liaise with units on the ground to tackle any crime they see and keep trains running smoothly.”
Networks Rail says crime on the south east’s railway has the cost taxpayer-funded organisation £20m in the last three years. It says the most common offences including trespassing on the tracks, vandalism and theft.
In the south east, where trains are powered by a 750v conductor rail, the power has to be turned off when people trespass on the line, causing huge delays for passengers.
On Friday, August 11, a trespasser on the tracks at Norbury in south London caused delays to more than 100,000 passengers on lines connecting London Victoria with Gatwick Airport and the south coast.
More than 800 trains were delayed for a combined 12,000 minutes – an average of 15 minutes per train – with disruption lasting until the end of the day’s service.
Inspector Becky Warren said: “We’re determined that the rail network remains a safe and secure place for people to travel and work. Every day, we police the journeys of more than six million passengers, making sure everyone gets home safe, secure and on time.
“This operation alongside Network Rail gives us another way to ensure the railways are kept safe throughout the busy summer holiday period.”