South Western Rail (SWR) are investing in a new safety partnership with UK Youth, a charity who aim to empower young people to allow them to thrive in the early stages of their lives. The partnership aims to educate young people aged 11-25 on the risks of rail trespassing, vandalism, level crossing misuse, and other danger areas, to improve the overall safety of the service.  Frankie Youd explores the partnership.

Travelling along tracks at a speed between 60 to 65mph and reaching up the 130mph on main lines, the UK railway is a dangerous environment which can see accidents, train collisions and in some cases fatalities if not treated with the caution required.

As reported by the Office of Rail and Road between 2022-2021 there was a total recorded number of ten passenger fatalities, with two occurring on the mainline and eight occurring on London Underground. Alongside this, on the mainline there were five fatalities at level crossings involving members of the public in 2020-2021 compared to two in 2019-20.

The number of near misses at level crossings involving pedestrians also increased to 342 – which is the highest recorded number since the data collection began in 2002-2003.

In an attempt to reduce these figures, UK Youth have partnered with SWR to create the ‘Off the track, onto the path of success’ course, in order to educate young people on the dangers and risks surrounding the railway environment.

The partnership: What it aims to achieve

Announced in October last year the partnership aims to educate young adults aged 11-25 on the risks of railway vandalism, trespassing, and level crossing misuse, with hopes to not only increase their own safety around railway lines but that of all customers as well.

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Running across winter and spring of 2022 the young adults attending will be able to participate in a variety of workshops and activities to heighten their awareness of railway safety. The course is planned to be held at Avon Tyrrell UK Youth’s outdoor learning venue, specifically built to assist with the continuous development of young people. Individuals wanting to get involved simply register their interest via the online form which will provide them with six available dates with course costs covered by funding.

Speaking on the partnership, David Watts, director of outdoor learning at UK Youth said: “The pandemic has brought additional challenges for all young people over the past few years, which means providing them with opportunities such as this to experience outdoor learning and physical activity to deliver vital life skills, and support good citizenship, has never been more important.”

“We have heard loud and clear from young people that they want more outdoor learning opportunities especially given the impact of the pandemic.”

“We have heard loud and clear from young people that they want more outdoor learning opportunities especially given the impact of the pandemic. This allows us to combine the interests and asks of young people with key life skills and safety messaging which will equip them for the future and enable them to thrive.”

SWR have committed £40,000 to the project which highlights the organisation’s ongoing commitment to supporting communities across the rail network via its Customer and Communities Improvement Fund (CCIF).

The CCIF aims to involve communities, customers, and stakeholders in identifying initiatives and schemes that address areas of social need, engage, or educate, with the local community across the SWR network. So far, the fund has covered a variety of different schemes, including diversity and outreach projects, which help to open up travel to a wider range of communities to complete building refurbishment projects.

Speaking in a press release on the new partnership, Veronika Krcalova, CCIF manager at South Western Railway, said: “We are always looking for new ways to improve railway safety and support the communities that our network serves.”

“Our partnership with UK Youth is a great opportunity to engage with younger customers and educate them on the operations and risks of a railway. In turn, we hope that it will improve both the safety of those participating in the course, as well as other customers.”

The course: What does it involve?

The primary target audience for the course focuses on young people who live within a 20-mile radius of a South Western Railway train station. By using outdoor learning, the course helps to develop young people’s general understanding of railway risks as well as the dangers that they put themselves – and others – in if they wander onto tracks.

Running across two nights and three days, the course will take place at Avon Tyrrell Outdoor Centre, Watts comments: “The centre is located in the beautiful location of The New Forest National Park. By using practical outdoor sessions which include activities such as High Ropes, Bushcraft, Night Navigation and Archery, along with a mix of indoor leadership and railway awareness sessions, learning can be immediate, and participants will be able to assess their understanding of risk in real time.”

The outdoor content has been framed around the principles of experience, learn, and develop which address the following principles:

Experience – The programme offers a variety of adventure activities to engage young people and help bring learning to life.

Learn – Experienced facilitators will aim to deliver a progressive programme to embed understanding of the topic area. Outdoor adventure sessions have been designed around creating an understanding of perceived risk and actual risk, and will also include opportunities for all participants to take on a leadership role to learn about their own personal development.

Develop – ‘Off the track, onto the path of success’ will include workshops aimed at empowering individuals to develop their leadership skills, allowing them to use these insights to become leaders on this subject within their own lives.

The introduction of this course aims to address the current as well as future needs of young people across the UK, while also creating lasting memories and experiences to build confidence as well as a sense of accomplishment and character.

“By combining fun adventure activities with key safety messaging, this programme will aim to develop an accessible understanding of both real and perceived risk, empowering young people to become leaders who can raise awareness around railway safety across their peers and others in their communities.” Watts concludes.