Maximising security, improving safety

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Feb/March 2015

Successfully tackling theft and other types of route crime can have a massive impact on the smooth running of the rail network. Having won the 2015 UK Rail Industry Award for Rail Asset Management and Security, SmartWater Technology Ltd’s Neil Carter explains how a strategic approach to security is key to delivering better safety.

Enhancing security and safety go hand-in-hand on the rail network. Maximising security will, when implemented correctly, limit opportunities for criminals to commit crime on the railway – including theft, trespass, graffiti and vandalism. This can ultimately help to improve safety, drive down delay minutes and enhance commuters’ experiences.

 For any security measures to achieve their full potential we believe a strategic, intelligence-led approach is required. Without this it is possible to spend considerable sums of money on a range of security measures achieving very little, principally because they were the wrong measures, deployed in the wrong locations or are less effective alternatives.

 While Network Rail is highly skilled at building and maintaining railways, there is an acceptance that the knowledge and understanding required to successfully influence criminal activity on the railway falls outside of its skillset. Invaluable support is provided to Network Rail by British Transport Police (BTP), but with limited resources they can only commit support where there is a high probability of catching offenders and enough evidence to prosecute.

 SmartWater was initially contracted by Network Rail as a specialist partner, with a focused remit of tackling cable theft on the London to North West (LNW) route – a crime which was, at the time, reported to be costing around £16m each year.

 The results achieved were extremely positive, with Network Rail reporting a 54.7% overall reduction in live cable theft, which increased to 63.5% following the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act (2013). In addition, delay minutes were cut by 54.9%, dramatically reducing the amount of compensation Network Rail had to pay to train operators and improving commuter confidence in the network. There were also more than 50 arrests made by BTP officers as a result of the SmartWater project.

 As impressive as the results were, the methodology that SmartWater implemented to achieve them went significantly beyond its initial remit and demonstrated the power of a strategic approach to security. SmartWater devised a holistic asset management and security strategy, which relied primarily on close collaboration with both Network Rail and BTP. The results provided data and insight not only into cable theft, but also other types of route crime – namely trespass and vandalism.

 The first step in this strategy was to help Network Rail fully understand its own security risks and where the opportunities lay to mitigate those risks. Analysis of Network Rail’s crime data by SmartWater analysts meant that potential risk areas, hotspots and crime trends could be identified. Once the data had been analysed, comprehensive threat assessments were carried out in these hotspots to pinpoint vulnerabilities. This identified assets most at risk of theft as well as damage to perimeter infrastructure (such as fencing), and access routes potentially used by thieves and trespassers to infiltrate the rail network.

 Carrying out these threat assessments provided a wealth of information to help Network Rail manage and mitigate its own risk. It also allowed for security measures to be strategically deployed and concentrated in areas responsible for the majority of Network Rail’s crime incidents – maximising cost efficiency.

 This led to a mind shift within Network Rail, allowing it to move away from reactive spending on expensive traditional security measures – such as burying cable, fixed CCTV, fencing and man-guards – without strategically measuring their effectiveness, the local threat level, or what return on investment they were hoping to achieve beforehand.

 Perhaps the best example of how valued this approach proved to be was that, by year three of the contract, SmartWater’s covert camera data was being fed directly into BTP’s control room in ‘real time’. As a result, BTP were frequently able to respond and catch trespassers on the line. This included identifying local school children playing on the railway, allowing BTP officers to visit the school and put a stop to the problem by educating the children about the dangers they faced.

 Ultimately the implementation of this strategic approach has helped make the LNW line significantly safer.

 The level of innovation and co-operation between Network Rail, SmartWater, and BTP as part of this project is unprecedented in the fight against route crime. The impact of this partnership could set a benchmark for fighting crime across the national railway, as well as demonstrate the wider benefits of future private-public sector collaboration.

 Winning the 2015 UK Rail Industry Award for Rail Asset Management and Security is a great accolade to recognise this collaboration and the results achieved.

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