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At 06.29 on the 8th May 2019, a train stuck an abandoned vehicle on the Morris Cowley Branch Line near Kennington Junction, Oxford. It took over 9 hours for Network Rail to deal with the incident; and return possession of the track at 15:55.

23 minutes later; the driver of another train on the same line struck a 6-metre length of rail deliberately placed across the line where the vehicle had been abandoned. Thankfully both trains suffered no damage and all crew were reported fine; even though the railway security had been breached.

However, initial reports show that the rail was deliberately levered onto the line shortly after the first train that had struck the abandon vehicle had moved on. This isn’t a unique case; on 11th April 2019; British Transport Police issued a warning over “malicious obstructions” placed on the railway at Yaxley and Netherfeld. At both locations the obstructions were intended to disrupt rail services.

  • Standard advice in all these incidents is for ongoing action to follow the HOT and WHAT protocols to maintain railway security. British Transport Police classify HOT to decide if it is appropriate to examine an unattended item more closely.


    – is it hidden from view, not in clear sight?


    – is it obviously suspicious because of its appearance or the circumstances of its discovery?


    – is it typical of what you would expect to find in this location?

    Where as WHAT is a simple acronym that is used in order to help evaluate behaviour determined to be ‘odd’ and also to then provide a reporting format. It stands for


    What are they doing?


    How are they behaving?


    Alone or acting with others?


    Threat what type do they pose?

In both of these cases, the protocol takes affect after something has happened. Either the discovery of a suspicious item or the response to suspicious individuals. What neither cover is the prevention of the incident and that is why The Hot Topic asks is it time to start with WHY.

WHY looks at the ability for people or persons to gain access to the railways and forms the most important part of railway security.


What is the current Physical Deterrent? This could be a security fence or even hedgerows.


How does it delay? Can someone gain access through it, over it or under it. How quickly could they do this and what equipment would they need to carry this out?


Why do we have it? Is the area being protected of critical importance; and what is the affect on the rail network if they do?

By reviewing WHY on a regular basis against actions on the railways nationally we are able to provide a higher level of railway security as a whole. Whether this is the deployment of temporary security systems or upgrading permanent physical security fencing; the ability to prevent with WHY removes the need for HOT and WHAT.

Railway Security

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