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Schools urged to get on track

Schools are being urged to work with rail companies to stem the rise of vandalism and trespassing on Britain's railway network.

This year five children have died after trespassing onto railway lines. Three children were hit and killed by trains while two were electrocuted.

Acts of vandalism have risen over the past year. Train accidents caused by malicious acts rose from 887 in 199697 to 1,137 in 199798 while 61 per cent of all train accidents were caused by vandalism over the past 12 months compared to 51 per cent in the previous year.

The Health and Safety Commission has produced a new book of advice to combat the problem. The book includes examples of good practice in the fight against vandalism on the railways. Many of them involve joint initiatives between rail companies and schools which have been effective in reducing trespass and vandalism.

But the guide also questions the use of traditional school visits as a means of educating youngsters.

"The value of school visits is still debated in the industry and the appropriateness of using uniformed British Transport Police and train drivers is increasingly questioned," the commission says.

It adds: "There has been little structured evaluation of the impact of school visits.

"The effect of school visits on children is harder to measure. A thorough review would help focus the programme more effectively."

Part of the problem is most acts of trespass and vandalism are, according to transport police, committed by boys, aged 15 to 19, who often do not attend school.

But Vic Coleman, the Health and Safety Executive's chief inspector of railways, said: "We believe there is an important role for school visits by Railtrack, the British Transport Police and train- operating companies to highlight the dangers. Increasingly both teachers and the rail industry see the need to target schools in hot spot areas."

Examples of good practice include truancy control on the Newcastle Metro and on Connex South Eastern in Greenwich. In Newcastle, four education authorities co-ordinated truancy patrols with police and rail staff.

The last swoop in the on-going operation netted 267 truants -including 160 children who were accompanied by parents.

Last year, Greenwich borough and transport police ran truancy patrols at stations where children had been causing trouble. During the two-week pilot scheme 30 children aged nine to 16 were stopped. All but 11 were truanting. The initiative has since been repeated and is now carried out on a regular basis.

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