South Western Rail operates first ever railway drone flight to help spot trespassers

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The very first Network Rail drone survey has launched on a South Western Rail route, in a bid to improve performance and safety across the network.

The drone made its maiden flight in Bournemouth to survey a trespass hotspot, looking to record anyone risking their lives on the train tracks last week. Any images of illegal trespassing will be passed to the British Transport Police.

Network Rail’s mobile incident officer, Peter Atkins, was the first trained railway drone pilot on the route from Waterloo station to the south coast. Atkins had to complete extensive training with Essex Police before qualifying to fly.

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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.

“I’m really looking forward to using this drone to improve safety and journeys for passengers across the route.

The specially designed drone is equipped with a high-tech heat sensitive 4k camera to spot changes in temperature, helping identify people and potential damage to our infrastructure.

It will also allow inspections to be carried out by air without closing railway, improving performance and reliability. Using a drone also means we can reduce the number of times we are sending engineers onto the tracks, which improves safety.

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 causes unnecessary delays. I hope that the deployment of this new technology will discourage trespassing and reduce delays for passengers.”

The drone will fly up to 120 meters high at speeds of up to 50mph. The images it takes are displayed on the operator’s screen and recorded directly to a USB drive so they can then be immediately transferred to British Transport Police and other authorities as necessary.

Picture credit: RUAS,

Tags : Andy MellorsBritish Transport PoliceNetwok railPeter AtkinsSouth Western Railway
Emma Calder

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