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Half of young men think they could dodge a train

Network Rail has gone to extreme lengths in its efforts to keep teenagers off the tracks – getting a rapper and spoken word artist with excellent hearing to show that in the dark, even they can’t tell from which direction a train travelling at 80mph is coming at them.

The music artists were set up in a warehouse where sound engineers created a 360 degree surround-sound system to recreate the noise of an approaching train with other distracting noises such as wind and traffic, with a mocked-up ‘spoke’ of tracks. They stood in the middle, and when they felt sure they knew which direction the train was coming from, pressed a button.

Rapper Wretch 32 said afterwards: “I’ve got 97% hearing, so should have a good idea of where sound is coming from. As soon as I stepped into the Track Test simulator and the normal sounds you’d expect to hear when you’re on the tracks, like traffic noise, are added, I didn’t make it across in time. No matter how much confidence you’ve got in your hearing and speed, when you’re in the dark and a train is coming towards you at 80mph, confidence is not enough to get you across safely.”

Network Rail is dismayed at surveys showing that more than half (51%) of 16-24 years old males think they’d be able to hear a train coming and get off the tracks in time if they were trespassing. The figure for the wider population, 32%, is also worrying.

Robin Gisby, Network Rail managing director of network operations, said: “The sound of a train approaching is much quieter than you would imagine with the wheels pushing noise out sidewards rather than forwards and distorting what you hear. Trespass is just not a risk worth taking and so we hope that Wretch and George can help get across this message and reduce the number of incidents we see each year.”

Forty-one people died last year after trespassing on the railway, 40% of them 16-24 year old boys and men.

Dr Bruno Fazenda, from the Acoustics Research Centre, University of Salford, said: “It is very easy to become disoriented as sound from the tracks or nearby can be reflected off fences and buildings and cause an illusion that the train is approaching from the wrong direction. This can be intensified if you’ve been exposed to loud music in a bar or nightclub as your hearing system will adapt in an attempt to protect you. Sounds become muffled and this is often accompanied by ringing in the ears, which can last hours after exposure. Whether your senses are dulled or not, by the time your brain puts all the clues together, it’s likely that the train will be too close for you to move away safely.”

The British Transport Police’s own campaign, Operation Avert, is targeting 64 locations over the next six weeks to reduce trespass with increased patrols, increased community engagement and real time monitoring of CCTV at hotspots.

Detective Chief Superintendent Miles Flood from British Transport Police said: “Billions of pounds have been invested to give us a fast, modern rail network. Trains are very fast and often surprisingly silent, particularly if you aren’t paying attention. We spend thousands of police hours combating trespass to keep people safe and minimise disruption to the network. If this campaign can prevent one BTP officer having to tell someone that their loved one has been killed or maimed, it will be worth it.”

The Track Tests video, a ‘behind the scenes’ version and a ‘test yourself’ game are at:

Full details and survey results on trespassing are available here.

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