FOR schoolchildren, the long summer holidays bring a chance to let their hair down and have fun.

But the extended break means increased vigilance for those policing Britain’s railways. Across the country, the vacation brings an increased number of incidents involving youngsters playing or deliberately causing damage alongside or near the tracks.

To coincide with this period, British Transport Police (BTP) has joined forces with Network Rail to deliver a life-saving campaign focusing on safety near the railways. This year the national initiative - which in similar forms has run for almost two decades - comes as the number of reports of young people risking their lives on the railways hits a four-year high.

In West Yorkshire, between April 2017 and April 2018, there were 138 instances of young people trespassing on the tracks.

National figures also show that more than a quarter of teenagers (27 per cent) confess to behaving in a way that could endanger their life on the railway. One in 10 teenagers admitted to walking along the railway line - more than two fifths of those (42 per cent) in the last year.

The number of young people taking risks on the tracks has risen by almost 80 per cent in the last five years. In the last 12 months alone, seven young people under the age of 18 have lost their lives and a further 48 people have received life changing injuries.

The ‘You Vs Train’ campaign targets teenagers to make them face the serious and devastating consequences for them and their loved ones when they make the potentially life-changing decision to ignore warnings and go onto the railway, with its obvious and hidden dangers.

At the heart of the campaign is the story of Tom Hubbard, a young boy from the West Midlands who suffered life-changing injuries in 2014 when he was electrocuted by the overhead power cables. Tom suffered third degree burns across 57 per cent of his body and he has been left to deal with the serious physical and psychological consequences ever since. A short film featuring Tom and his family has been launched across social media and will be shown in cinemas throughout the summer.

In tandem with the campaign, BTP officers in the Yorkshire region are working hard to raise awareness of the dangers. “Summer holidays see an increase due to the warmer weather, longer days and children out of school looking for something to do,” says Inspector Andy Roberts, whose team officers cover West Yorkshire and parts of North Yorkshire up to Skipton. “Also in today’s economy many parents work, so youngsters are spending more time on their own.”

During the holidays increased patrols by officers target ‘hotspots’, where incidents - which usually involve youngsters aged between 11 and 13, but can involve younger and older children - occur more regularly.

“We have had situations in which very young children, aged six or seven, have been seen putting items on the lines. At that age they are inquisitive and don’t realise the dangers. They don’t think about the fact that a train cannot quickly stop or swerve. Often, the most a driver can do is sound the horn,” says Insp Roberts, who in his 20-year career has on a number of occasions had to visit families to deliver bad news, after someone has been injured or killed on the railway.

“That is the worst part of the job,” he says, adding that parents can now show youngsters BTP safety videos online to educate them as to the dangers. “They can look on YouTube, and learn about why they should avoid the railways.”

He adds that, for anyone standing on or near the track, trains can suddenly appear, without warning. “As well as being fast, they run very quietly.”

Local hotspots include the footbridge at Dalcross Grove on the Bradford to Halifax line, before trains enter Bowling tunnel and, Duckett’s level crossing in Pudsey.

This year has brought a number incidents at Low Moor station in Bradford, which opened last year, with stones being thrown at trains. New CCTV footage, showing children throwing stones at trains and trespassing on tracks at Low Moor has been released by the BTP.

Following the incidents, four offenders, three girls and a boy, all aged 13, were issued a community resolution agreement, with three of them writing a letter of apology to the area manager of Northern Rail.

Throwing objects at a train or placing them on a track can not only damage the train, but endanger the life of those travelling. The crime of deliberately endangering life on the railway can result in a life sentence.

Electrified lines can bring a different set of dangers. Electricity from overhead lines can arc many feet through the air, particularly in wet weather. “Anyone swinging an object onto the cables puts themselves in great danger. There are 25,000 volts going through the overhead wires,” says Insp Roberts. “We have a had a number of incidents on the lines from Bradford, and Ilkley, to Skipton.”

During the school term officers from neighbourhood policing teams, visit schools to talk about the dangers of trespassing on the railway.

The BTP works in partnership with Network Rail, whose specialist staff also carry out year-round visits to schools.

Incidents can cause serious delays not only on the line itself, but other routes across the country. “There are serious knock-on effects. As well as timetable disruptions, drivers and other staff working on other routes often travel to work by train, so they will not arrive on time,” says Insp Roberts. “Delays put a strain on society - everyone has a job to do, and will be stopped from doing it.”

Rob McIntosh, route managing director at Network Rail, says: "The railway is an extremely dangerous environment and trespassing on it can have devastating and life-changing consequences. People need to realise that the railway is not a playground and take note of the danger they are putting themselves in when they choose to trespass on the tracks. Network Rail carries out safety workshops in schools and we work closely as a rail industry to reduce incidents, but we need everyone to do their bit too. We would urge parents to speak to their children and keep them safe by educating them about the dangers."

Members of the public can be a great help in preventing problems, says Insp Roberts, by reporting any suspicious behaviour near the railways. “Some people may worry that what they saw is not important enough to ring, but we can decide that. We appreciate any information.”

*Anyone witnessing an incident on the railways should call BTP on 0800 405040, or text 61016.