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Pupils respond to rail warnings

PUPILS are beginning to get the message about staying off the railways and not causing damage to property, according to Railtrack, the authority which controls the lines. But its view contradicts evidence south of the border.

Research shows the peak age for vandals placing objects on the line is 12, and 15 for graffiti and general damage. Overall, the peak age for vandalism is two to three years lower than five years ago.

But Scottish rail authorities are confident they are tackling the issue by programmes in primary and now in early secondary.

In England, five children died last year after trespassing onto lines. By contrast, in Scotland no child under 16 has been killed in the past two years and there has only been one death in the last four.

Education programmes carried out by British Transport Police reached 22, 000 pupils last year and double that number when exhibitions are included. A project launched in November, the Fast Track Initiative for Pupil Safety, is the first to target early secondary pupils. Previous campaigns were directed at younger children.

Susan Ramwell, Railtrack's communications manager, said vandalism was as "old as the railways" and the schools' unit of the transport police were aware of trouble spots. "We target schools and ask headteachers if we can come to speak to pupils," she said.

Rail authorities north of the border spent almost Pounds 50,000 last year on education and Pounds 700,000 on fencing. Closed circuit TV is now at most stations in the central belt.

The Scottish evidence follows guidance from the Health and Safety Commission. It questions school visits and says there has been little structured evaluation.

"The appropriateness of using uniformed police or train drivers is increasingly questioned. A thorough review would help focus the programme more effectively," the commission says.

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