- British Transport Police trial drones to improve safety and security on the UK's railways;
- DJI drones are being deployed to combat cable and equipment theft, deter trespassers and tackle graffiti hotspots;
- The drones offer unique aerial views, provide a safe and efficient method of patrol and enable a rapid response to trackside incidents;
- BTP says the drone trial is going well.
British Transport Police is exploring using drones to improve safety and security along the UK’s railway network.
The Force’s fleet of drones - including the DJI Mavic 2 Enterprise - is being used to combat cable and equipment theft, deter trespassers and tackle graffiti hotspots.
BTP has recently deployed the drones as part of Operation Ingolf: Working with Network Rail and other stakeholders to monitor the Brighton Main Line during engineering works.
With the stretch shut to passenger services, the line was vulnerable to criminal activity and disruption caused by trespassers.
The drones provided a safe and efficient method of patrolling the area and enabled rapid response to trackside incidents. They offered unique aerial views - ideal for spotting signs of tampering or interference - while the use of thermal imaging meant the team could operate night and day.
Drone team Sergeant Will Russell said: “Drones were really useful to us during this operation. They provided a method of checking the track in a much safer and more efficient way, enabling us to get up and down the areas of track that we were interested in without having to send police officers and members of Network Rail lineside to have a look.
“They helped to support our stakeholders, preventing disruption to ensure they could deliver the engineering works on schedule, as well as safely and efficiently.”
BTP has been using drones for around a year, as part of a trial funded by Network Rail. Ingolf was the latest successful operation, as drones continue to prove their worth to BTP’s operations in the south east of England.
“Drones are like having police eyes all along the track,” said Sergeant Russell, who admitted that the presence of a drone is a major deterrent to offenders.
He added that the quickly-deployable nature of drones make it a useful tool for rapid incident response.
“Our officers can turn up on blue lights to reports of trespass and have the drone up relatively quickly after completing the necessary safety checks and risk assessments,” said Sergeant Russell.
During Operation Ingolf, Network Rail notified BTP of a trespasser in the Salfords area. Sergeant Russell deployed a DJI Matrice drone for the incident and was able to quickly sweep the line using the thermal camera.
Sergeant Russell said: “On route I contacted Gatwick ATC who gave us permission to operate as we were in an ATZ, we then conducted a thorough risk assessment and cordoned off the area where the drone would be taking off and landing. The drone enabled us to do the job quicker and more safely, by putting fewer people on the track.
"It significantly reduced the disruption and we were able to return the railway to normal working by using the drone to check along 1.5km of track.”
Drones have also become an effective tool for preventing graffiti damage.
“We deploy at night to tackle graffiti hotspots and this is where the thermal really comes into its own. We have found that to be really useful," said Sergeant Russell.
BTP’s drone trial is to assess the effectiveness of drones to support its objectives of making the railway a safe place and reducing disruption.
Sergeant Russell points out that drones will complement the work of the helicopter, instead of replacing it, and the Force continues to work closely with the National Police Air Service.
“Operation Ingolf was a success and we'd like to think the use of drones during the whole BTP trial has been a success - it is going very well and we are planning more operations in the future," said Sergeant Russell, who hopes that BTP’s drone capability can be expanded to cover the UK’s entire rail network.
The drones used by BTP were supplied by heliguy™.