THEY might have thought they were indulging in some harmless trainspotting, but a handful of steam enthusiasts awoke this morning to find themselves on a police “most wanted” list.
In a tactic usually reserved for identifying those involved in mass civil unrest, railway police took the unusual step of issuing numbered CCTV pictures of people alleged to have trespassed on the tracks in order to get a better view of the restored steam locomotive, Flying Scotsman.
The pictures, taken from a Network Rail helicopter, show individuals and couples standing close to the tracks last month as the newly-liveried loco made its way between Newcastle and York.
The Scotsman’s inaugural journey in February, following its restoration, was watched by thousands who lined the tracks between London and York, attracting the wrath of railway officials who said safety and punctuality were at stake.
Following reports that people had been taking pictures of Flying Scotsman while other trains passed by, British Transport Police issued a “stand clear of the tracks” warning.
They now say their words went unheeded in some quarters, prompting what they called “a significant policing operation”, and the release of today’s “rogues’ gallery” of images.
They have also issued phone and text numbers to help trace those on the images, promising to “take action” against them.
Following the February outing, the taxpayer-funded Network Rail was forced to pay nearly £60,000 in compensation to train companies, as 59 services were delayed by people on the track.
All trains on the East Coast Main Line were temporarily stopped, causing a combined total of more than eight hours of delays.
There was a further incident on March 13, when the rear carriage of Flying Scotsman was hit by a drone as it travelled on the North Yorkshire Moors Railway between Grosmont and Pickering.
Today, Chief Inspector David Oram, of British Transport Police, said: “Despite our advice and numerous warnings over the past few weeks, people have put themselves at risk by standing too close to the rail lines, giving little thought to the potential dangers and any offences they might be committing.
“Not only is this extremely dangerous but it has resulted in the train being delayed.”
He added: “In order to keep the public safe we will enforce the law where appropriate, which is why we are releasing the images of people trespassing today in a bid to trace those responsible.”
British Transport Police said it would “continue to identify and take action against trespassers on future journeys to ensure that these pass safely and free from disruption”.
Trainspotters on the line were not the only obstacles to Flying Scotsman’s progress. Last month, Network Rail was forced to apologise for cancelling outings by the locomotive to Scotland and then reversing its decision at the last minute, in what the country’s transport minister Derek Mackay described as a debacle.
The company is investigating the reasons for the premature cancellation.
Today, its route managing director, Rob McIntosh, said it was “deeply worrying” to see people by the side of the tracks.
He said: “Tens of thousands of people have been out to see this railway icon on its tour of the country so far, but even one person trespassing is one too many.
“The threat of serious injury is real, as well as causing delays to passengers travelling on other services, and we will continue to work very closely with the British Transport Police to keep our railway safe and to make sure spectators remember their day out for all the right reasons.”
Flying Scotsman’s return to the rails followed a decade-long restoration at a cost of £4.2m, after the National Railway Museum in York bought it for £2.3m in 2004.
Originally built in Doncaster in 1923, it became the star locomotive of the British railway system, pulling the first train to break the 100mph barrier.
The British Transport Police hot line for information is 0800 405040, or text 61016.