Rules of the Railway

Our nation’s railways are protected by a different kind of police force. Formed in 1948, the British Transport Police take care of all criminal matters regarding our network of railways. Imagine how stretched the regular police would be if they too had to patrol Britain’s 10,000 miles of track and more than 3,000 railway stations and depots! That is why we have a separate force with jurisdiction for the National Rail Network, the London Underground, Docklands Light Railway and Midland Metro, along with others. You might not think much could happen on the railway but between 2015 and 2016 there were a recorded 48,718 crimes.

As of last year, the BTP has 2,968 officers, 283 Special Constables and 324 Police Community Support Officers, making it the 19th largest force in Britain. Part of their history can be related to the building of the vast railway network in the 19th century. A huge workforce was required to build this network and armies of workers or ‘navvies’ were brought in to the countryside which brought fear from the rural communities. The Special Constables Act of 1838 was made requiring railway companies to bear the cost of hiring constables to keep the peace near construction sites.

The continually expanding network of railways gave criminals new opportunities to move around the country and commit crime. The railways were pioneers of the electric telegraph and its use often involved the arrest of criminals arriving or departing by train. On 1 January 1845 a Railway Police Sergeant became the first person to arrest a murderer following the use of an electric telegraph.

In 1838 the nation’s mail was conveyed by rail for the first time and it wasn’t long before the first mail thefts were reported. In 1848 the Eastern Counties Railway lost 76 pieces of luggage in just one day, and by the following year thefts from the largest six railways amounted to over £100,000 a year. The first railway murder was committed in 1864 by Franz Muller, who robbed and killed a fellow passenger on a North London Railway train. These days many of the BTP are equipped with Body Worn Cameras to capture evidence of crimes being committed in real time. For more information, visit

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Up until the 1990’s any accidents on the railway was investigated by HM Railway Inspectorate. However, after major accidents like the 1988 Clapham Junction rail crash, the British Transport Police took on a much bigger role in crash investigations. The BTP also operate several emergency response vehicles for incidents occurring in the London Underground. The vehicles can carry engineers and equipment to the scene. They have also since developed a firearms unit and a medical response unit due to the 2005 bombings in London and the continued threat from global terrorism.

Different crimes that occur on the railway include graffiti, offences of trespass and vandalism, theft of copper and theft from passengers. It is said that 17 million offences of trespass are committed every year.