Railway safety and crime

17.04.19

Helium balloons causing ‘increasing number of train delays’ at cost of £1m

Helium-filled balloons are causing hundreds of train delays at a cost of £1m in taxpayer money every year, Network Rail has revealed.

There have been 619 balloon-related incidents across England, Scotland and Wales in the past year – nearly two a day – and Network Rail said it wants to highlight this growing problem in a “stark safety warning to train passengers.”

The balloons have become tangled around high-voltage overhead wires, which cause long delays while the electricity is switched off and the lines are made safe. On top of safety risks and delays, the annual cost of the problem to the British taxpayer is around £1m every year.

Gas Factory Curve Bow October 2018

The most recent incident occurred this week at Smethwick Rolfe Street Station in the West Midlands when a float away helium balloon became wrapped around overhead wires.

This resulted in hundreds of train passengers being delayed, and the single incident cost £5,000.

James Dean, the chief operating officer for Network Rail’s London North Western route, said: “If you’re on a railway station platform with a foil balloon filled with helium on a string and it comes in contact with the overhead wires carrying 25,000 volts, that could cause huge injury or death.

“Ideally, we’d ask people not to bring balloons into our stations at all. Alternatively, carry them in bags so the risk of them floating upwards is minimised.”

Balloons Hyde Junction Manchester Feb 2018

The National Association of Balloon Artists and Suppliers (NABAS) have echoed the safety call, and has launched a campaign to ban the launching of foil balloons, sky lanterns, or any plastic with plastic string or ribbons attached.

The chairman of NABAS, George Oustayiannis, commented: “Balloons bring fun and colour and a sense of celebration to any event, but please dispose of them responsibly, and never release balloons into the atmosphere.

“Respect the environment and prevent unnecessary danger and delays - please don't let go!"

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