Rail Industry Focus


Dry evenings

Source: Rail Technology Magazine Aug/Sept 2012

Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, area commander for BTP Scotland, and ScotRail’s managing director Steve Montgomery discuss the recent ban on alcohol after 9pm and its intended effect on passenger and staff safety.

With an increasing number of trains being delayed due to anti-social behaviour and at least one accident a week caused by excessive alcohol on Scotland’s trains, something had to be done.

Consumption of alcohol is already banned during major football matches, and passenger feedback suggests that anti-social behaviour arising from an excess of alcohol can damage their perception of rail travel.

In response, ScotRail has introduced a ban on consumption of alcohol after 9pm on all services apart from the Caledonian Sleeper. Passengers who refuse to stop drinking, or who are so drunk they are not fit to travel, will be escorted off the train by British Transport Police (BTP) Scotland officers.

Trains with catering services selling alcohol will stop sales at 8.30pm and passengers who have bought drinks will be advised to drink up before the curfew comes into place.

The ban officially came into force on July 20, following a four-week campaign to raise awareness of the change. The first fortnight took a ‘softly, softly’ approach and the project comes into force after a year-long review into customer perceptions of travel.

The common denominator

RTM spoke to BTP area commander, Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, and ScotRail’s managing director Steve Montgomery about the scheme and the importance of preventing low-level crime that can often be incited by excess alcohol.

The ban aims to tackle anti-social behaviour on trains, which is important as this affects more people than headline-grabbing violent crime. Over the last four or five years, Bird described “considerable” reductions in crime such as serious violence and sexual offences. But whilst these incidents are deplorable, they do not affect as large a proportion of passengers as low-level crime and anti-social behaviour does, especially when alcohol is involved.

A number of staff assaults are also alcohol-related, so the ban will provide protection for everyone travelling via ScotRail.

Bird said: “We’ve had a real focus over the last two years around tackling sectarian, football-related offences and often we see alcohol is a theme within that as well.”

Alcohol seemed to be the “common denominator”. To this end, BTP Scotland and ScotRail worked together to plan how this could be tackled.

A courageous step forward

In terms of the practicalities of the ban, the legal precedent and basis upon which the BTP will act already exists within the Railway Byelaws.

Bird explained: “We’ve always endeavoured to use powers that already exist, things like dry trains.

“ScotRail have been obviously keen to take what I think is a courageous step forward, which is really good and obviously we’ve been talking and planning over the last few months over how we would support them in the implementation.”

She described the efforts ScotRail expended to provide passengers with clear communication about what was going to happen and when, to raise awareness of the scheme. The ban followed a four-week campaign complete with posters, flyers and additional publicity to ensure passengers understood the plans.

“This is never about criminalising people,” Bird said, and added: “That’s why it’s been important to plan this carefully, think it through, do a proper campaign, make sure that we reinforce it and hopefully the success is that we haven’t had staff assaulted, if passengers feel safe.”

Common sense

One challenge with protecting passengers from low-level crime is that it becomes more difficult to implement, as whether an offence has even been committed could be subjective.

Bird acknowledged this difficulty and said: “I think we’ve been absolutely clear right from the start on whether someone can travel or not and the conditions of travel; that is very much the responsibility of the train operator and our role is to support them.

“We don’t suddenly take over ‘policing’ of who is allowed to get on a train, because that is an agreement between the train operator and the passenger.”

“Discretion and common sense is absolutely key throughout all of this,” she continued. “This is not about suddenly delaying all the services because we stopped the train because somebody’s drinking alcohol.”

The new approach is very much based on assessment of behaviour, with staff expected to decide on a proportional course of action.

ScotRail agreed that common sense will be applied when enforcing the ban and reiterated that it’s not aimed at passengers who happen to have bought a bottle of wine to take back home. The operator has informed passengers who have bought alcohol to pack it away and keep it out of sight.

Measures of success

Considering how the outcomes of the project will be measured, Bird said: “How do you define success? You could either say success is that we haven’t had to respond to lots of incidents, there hasn’t been disruption, there haven’t been assaults. Or somebody might say success is arresting lots of people.”

To measure the effectiveness of the ban, senior members of staff have been touring stations and routes across Scotland to experience the impact and implementation first hand.

This is timetabled to continue until at least the autumn, ScotRail said.

Evaluation of the scheme would be continual, Bird added.

“It’s about absolute clarity and reinforcing that message. Different people will define success in different ways but we will keep monitoring it.

“I’m absolutely confident we’ll know if it hasn’t worked, but we will certainly keep reinforcing [it].

“There has to be this balance. This is not about disrupting the service, it’s actually about creating an environment where passengers and staff feel safer.”

Feeling safe 

If rail staff feel safer on board and know they have BTP partners who will respond they could be more likely to report incidents, as anti-social behaviour becomes more socially unacceptable on trains.

Bird compared the ban to the way smoking is now unacceptable on a train and suggested that in the same way, anti-social behaviour fuelled by alcohol should be regarded as breaking a social norm.

It is not always the reality of the danger that is important, she said, but the passengers’ perception of safety. Bird expressed her hopes that the new scheme could encourage people to be more confident in reporting incidents, in the knowledge that they would be supported for doing so.

“When passengers walk into a station, how does it feel? Whether they’re a victim of crime or if they see anti-social behaviour is almost irrelevant: it’s about when you walk into that station, ‘How do you feel?’”

Public perceptions

So far, there has been a positive public response to the ban – with the vast majority of customers, stakeholders and media welcoming the move.

Montgomery said: “The introduction has gone well, and I thank customers for their support in sending out a clear message that antisocial behaviour on trains and at stations is unacceptable.”

This has been echoed by stakeholders. Liz Cameron, chief executive of Scottish Chambers of Commerce, said: “We welcome ScotRail’s crackdown on alcohol-related anti-social behaviour.

“The ban will improve perceptions as well as make travel more pleasant for the vast majority of Scottish rail passengers.”

Looking to the future consequences of the ban, Montgomery concluded: “We expect the ban will further improve public perceptions and reduce incidents of alcohol related anti-social behaviour at stations and on train.

“We are closely monitoring customer feedback – including our safety statistics, passenger survey results and social media channels – and the early signs are good.”

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