Police Issue Guidance on Railway Crossing

Following recent attention surrounding the issue of walkers and railway crossing (here on the Hilltalk forum for instance) the British Transport Police in Scotland have sent us a reminder of the legalities, or otherwise. Meanwhile Ramblers Scotland have expressed their own slightly different views on the matter. Who should we listen to? Well, only one of them can take you to court...

Take the risk and break the law, or make a detour?, 138 kb
Take the risk and break the law, or make a detour?
© Dan Bailey

In more remote areas of the Highlands walkers may occasionally be tempted to nip across a railway outwith any official crossing point, and indeed on one or two popular Munro routes it's a fairly commonly used way to access the hill. People have been quietly doing this for as long as there have been railways, but accidents do occasionally happen even out on remote lines with minimal traffic. Walkers have been caught in the act too, and if so may face prosecution for trespass.

'There are designated and clearly marked crossings with pedestrian access where it is legal to cross the line'

Unhelpfully, a legal grey area currently exists in the form of unofficial or private rail crossings, of which there are nearly 600 in Scotland. Do the public have the right to use them? Is permission needed? Neither Network Rail nor the British Transport Police seem to know for sure. The Law Commission and Scottish Law Commission are looking into it, and are due to report on level crossings legislation and propose a new bill early this year.

In the meantime here's what British Transport Police have to say concerning any rail access away from an officially designated, signed crossing point:

'In light of recent comments regarding the issue of walkers and ramblers crossing railway lines to access walking routes and Munros, could I suggest that this may be a timely opportunity to advise [readers] that it is a criminal offence - under the British Transport Commission Act 1949 (section 55) to trespass on the railway – no matter the location or the frequency of trains. Advice that suggests otherwise and fails to recognise the law, jeopardises safety or could cause unnecessary delay to train users is unhelpful.'

'Lines, which may appear quiet between timetabled passenger services, may be in use by freight services or engineering trains and walkers could unexpectedly find themselves in the path of a train. There are designated and clearly marked crossings with pedestrian access where it is legal to cross the line.'

'Please be aware that anyone found trespassing on the railway will be reported to the local Procurator Fiscal and could be punished with a fine of up to £1,000.'

'British Transport Police records thousands of incidents of trespassing every year and many people have been seriously injured, or even killed. The resulting effect on families, train drivers and passengers can be devastating.'

That's the official line.

However Ramblers Scotland see things rather differently, a disagreement that suggests this issue may yet rumble on for some time to come.

'Our recommendation is for walkers to continue to cross railway lines in Scotland in the same way as they have been doing since the railways were first constructed' says a statement on their website.

'In doing so, everyone needs to take all necessary precautions to minimise risk to themselves and the operations of the railway.'

'They should be extra vigilant to ensure that they are not crossing when trains are approaching, and larger groups of walkers particularly need to take care. It is important to remember that modern trains are relatively quiet, especially when approaching on a downhill section and can be travelling at considerable speed.'

'Please report to us by email any situations where you are challenged over the crossing of a line, if you think this challenge is unreasonable. This will assist in the representations that we are making to the Scottish Government and other parties in our efforts to resolve these difficulties with Network Rail and British Transport Police.'

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