More people than ever are risking their lives by trespassing on railway tracks in the North East, new figures have revealed.
Alarming new figures from Network Rail and British Transport Police (BTP) shows incidents are at an all-time high in the region, while nationally one person dices with death every hour by trespassing
Last year alone there were around 313 incidents where people risked their lives on the rail network in the North East - a 22 per cent rise on the previous year.
Research also shows young people are more likely to take a risk on the tracks, with seasonal peaks in incidents coinciding with the spring and summer school holidays.
Hayley Bull, community safety manager at Network Rail, explains: “Every April we see a huge rise in the number of people taking a risk on the rail network, and it’s worrying that these numbers seem to be going up.
"Britain has the safest railway in Europe, but still too many people lose their lives on the tracks.
"The dangers may not always be obvious, but the electricity on the railway is always on, and trains can travel up to 125 miles per hour, so even if they see you, they can’t stop in time.
“As the railway gets busier and we electrify more lines to improve services, we must work harder to keep young people safe by making them aware of the dangers.
"It may seem harmless to take a shortcut, or fun to play on the tracks, but this is not only illegal, it is also very dangerous.
"Taking a short cut or messing around on the tracks can result in serious life-changing injuries or death.”
In response to the seasonal surge and to tackle the problem of youth trespass, Network Rail has launched a schools engagement programme, which aims to teach children in trespass hotspots about railway safety.
The Tackling Track Safety programme will be rolled out to more than 100 schools across Britain, using sport to educate children about the dangers across the network.
In 2016, 17 children were caught trespassing by police in the region, with boys aged 14 to 16 the most likely offenders.
Inspector Brian Buddo from BTP in Newcastle said: “We believe the number of children we encounter trespassing every year is sadly, just the tip of the iceberg.
“Every single day we are called to the tracks because a train driver has had to sound their horn or apply their emergency brake in a desperate bid to avoid youths on the line, who then run off, seemingly unaware of the danger they have put themselves in.
“We continue to do all we can to keep youngsters safe by patrolling areas where we know they’re likely to trespass and prevent them from doing so.
“However, we cover thousands of miles of track and we cannot tackle this issue alone.
"That is why we are urging parents and young people to heed this warning and take a reality check when it comes to trespass.
"It’s not a game: they are real tracks, with real trains and real-life consequences.”