Warning of railway line dangers after 49 die on tracks

Image caption Network Rail is warning people to steer clear of live railway tracks

Nearly 50 people died in Britain after trespassing on live railway tracks last year, figures show.

Network Rail said that about a quarter of the 49 deaths between April 2009 and March 2010 had involved people aged between 11 and 20.

The company is concerned that people do not realise they can be killed by simply touching one of the rails.

It is warning young people of the dangers of playing on railway lines during the school holiday period.

The Network Rail campaign ""No Messin" also highlights the hundreds of objects thrown onto tracks each year.

The Rail Safety and Standards Board recorded 3,400 incidents of trespass and vandalism during the 2009-2010 period.

Death witnessed

Electrified track poses one type of danger and in parts of the country where a third rail is used to deliver power, people trespassing on the line can easily touch it accidentally -suffering severe injury or death.

Part of the danger lies in the fact that when people touch the rail, they "stick" to it and the emergency services cannot help until the power is switched off.

And the problem is not solved by having overhead power lines instead. In wet weather the electricity can arc through the air and hit people four feet away.

In both cases the power is left on overnight, which many people do not realise.

Leighton Walford is someone who knows first-hand what the danger is.

On 23 July 2006, he took a short-cut across a railway line in Eastleigh, Hampshire, with his 18-year-old girlfriend, Sammy Cook.

He said: "We were walking along the railway line and Sammy tripped and she fell onto the live rail. She was electrocuted.

"We - myself and a very close friend of hers called Louise - pulled her off by her belt and I picked her up in my arms and carried her to the side of the railway line and she took her last breaths in my arms."

He added: "The railways really are dangerous places. It's just not worth taking that risk. It's not a playground for kids and it's not safe for adults."

Night trains

There is also the danger of the trains themselves. Last year there were 60 reports of children playing "chicken" with trains.

There were more than 80 incidents of graffiti and more than 1,000 of stone throwing.

The true figures are also likely to be much higher - with many incidents going unreported.

"Far too many continue to risk their lives by taking a misguided short cut or worse, deliberately messing around on the tracks," said Robin Gisby, Network Rail's director of operations.

"Unlike cars, trains cannot swerve and can take the length of 20 football pitches to stop."

And just as with electricity, the danger does not stop after dark. Some passenger trains and freight trains run through the night.

The danger also is not just to those doing the trespassing.

Last year 76 shopping trolleys were placed on lines, as well as 180 bikes, 7 prams and one bouncy castle.

Trespassing on the railway is a criminal offence and people can be fined up to £1,000.

If someone puts an object on the track which causes an accident, the maximum sentence is life imprisonment.

And if a child is charged with causing a train accident, then a parent or guardian may be prosecuted too.

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