Trespassing on West Yorkshire railway lines has been recorded at the highest levels for 11 years prompting British Transport Police (BTP) to act to save people’s lives.
People who misuse railway crossings are being targeted by officers as BTP attempts to reduce the thousands of cases it deals with each year.
Officers are targeting troubled hotspots throughout West Yorkshire to stop people, especially youngsters, wandering onto the tracks.
Operation Turtle, which covers the Huddersfield to Leeds line, covering Morley, Mirfield, Ravensthorpe, Batley, Cottingley, Dewsbury and Leeds, is trying to stop people putting their lives in danger by trespassing on the tracks.
BTP Sgt Jacqui Wilson said: “During the summer holidays children tend to stay out a little later than usual, which is when we see a steep rise in reports of trespassing coming from train drivers as well as members of the public who have spotted someone on the tracks.
“We go out and try to find who they are and why they are there. They might be using it as a short cut or, with youngsters, building dens in bushes near the tracks. When you’re young, you don’t necessarily see the dangers.
“We need parents to know where their children are and what they are up to. We need them to tell their children the dangers of where they play.”
A record number of people died on Britain’s railways last year, according to safety figures.
Among the 332 deaths were 293 suspected suicides and 22 were caused by fatal injuries after trespassing during 2014/15 - up from 300 in 2013/14 - the previous record. It is the highest number recorded in 11 years of records.
Sgt Wilson said “We have officers patrolling known hotspots, making sure fencing is in place and not damaged and so on and we work with Network Rail who we feed information back to so they can make sure it is secure. We can usually tell by the ground if it’s been used regularly by people. “Fences are there for a reason - to keep people out because of the dangers. But kids don’t see those dangers and won’t think twice about climbing over the fence. It can sometimes be a bit of a challenge for them, but they are putting their lives at risk.
“You don’t even have to step on the tracks. Just being near them can be life threatening as the electricity can jump. It’s in the air, you just can’t see it.
Sgt Wilson referred to the tragic accident involving 16-year-old Kyle Bradley who died in July after climbing onto a freight train and touching the overhead power lines at Wrenthorpe.
She said: “We have seen one tragedy this year. We don’t want another one.
“Dealing with deaths on the railway is really hard for the officers. Some are suicides, but others aren’t deliberate acts, just tragic accidents.
“That’s what we are trying to prevent. We don’t want to stop children having fun over the school holidays - or any other time of the year. We just want them to be safe.
“It’s very hard for the officers who have to deal with accidents and incidents on the tracks. It’s even harder when we then have the horrible job of having to go see the family and tell them what’s happened. It is something that has to be done as soon as possible because due to social media, word gets out quick and we don’t want a family to hear the news that way.
“I have children and I can not even imagine someone coming to tell me that my son or daughter was not coming home again.”
“They might think that they can keep an eye out for a train coming, or hear one as it comes along the tracks. But they can’t always be heard, which makes it so much more dangerous. And if there is someone on the tracks then trains can’t swerve. There’s absolutely nothing the driver can do.”
But there are also the incidents of people taking their own lives on the railway.
Network Rail has been running a campaign for several years in conjunction with the Samaritans to prevent suicides and have installed fences along many stretches of track on platform ends to prevent deaths.
This has prevented an estimated 200 suicides and as a result, the scheme has now been extended for a further five years.
Sgt Wilson said: “Railways are dangerous places and we want people to use them properly - we want people to be safe. The number of children playing near railways rises significantly over the summer holidays and we need this to stop. It’s not a playground.”
She said that at Mirfield Railway Station, which has a bridge to cross, it is especially tempting for people to cross the tracks to save time. “At Mirfield, the track is on a bend so again, people won’t necessarily hear or see the train coming. Also, not all the trains stop at the platform so there are trains passing through that fly past at very high speeds.”
British Transport Police have high visibility Priority Crime Teams which cover designated areas, identifying problems and talking to the public - including children who are spotted nearby - to heighten their awareness to the dangers.
They also want to make it clear that they can and will prosecute people if they are caught on the track.
Sgt Wilson said: “We don’t want to make criminals out of people, but we need to make them realise they are trespassing and it is an offence. We’re not there to ‘catch’ criminals - we are there to prevent deaths. If we do see any children on the tracks, we will take them home to their parents and speak to them about the dangers.
“We are here to keep everyone safe and we will do everything in our power to make sure they are.”