UK infrastructure manager Network Rail has carried out the first drone survey on England’s south western rail route in a bid to combat track trespassers.

The drone, which made its first flight near Bournemouth on Friday, was used to record a trespass hotspot, and send images of illegal activities to the British Transport Police. It is equipped with a high-tech heat sensitive 4K camera that is capable of spotting changes in temperature and identifying potential damage to infrastructure.

According to the company, the drone can fly up to a height of 120m at speeds of 50mph, and at a maximum of 500m away from the pilot, depending on weather conditions.

Network Rail’s Mobile Incident officer Peter Atkins became the first railway drone pilot on the route following extensive training with the Essex Police. During the survey, Atkins received images taken by the drone on a display that were immediately transferred to the authorities.

He said: “I’m delighted to be operating the first-ever railway drone flight in the region. The training was very thorough and often challenging, but completely worth the effort for the benefits this technology will bring.

“It will also allow inspections to be carried out by air without closing the railway and improve performance and reliability. Using a drone means we can reduce the number of times we send engineers onto the tracks.”

South Western Railway managing director Andy Mellors said: “We welcome any initiative that can improve safety and performance. Trespassing on the railway network can have tragic consequences and cause unnecessary delays. I hope that the deployment of this new technology will discourage trespassing and reduce delays for passengers.”

Drone technology is currently being trialled elsewhere in the UK on the London North East and West Midland routes, helping to eliminate the need to close the railway and decrease the number of engineers sent on to the tracks.