Chairman Pip's Railway Thoughts

Why is the Railway so special?

Posted in America, Great Britain, Other general stuff about railways by Chairman Pip on 10 January 2011

Our American cousins are very big on law enforcement, having a police force for pretty much every eventuality. Not only does this cover federal, state, county and municipal policing covering geographical areas, but also a huge range of specialist policing, which includes wide areas of the nation’s transport system. These do not just cover those areas owned and operated by the public sector, such as the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Police or the Los Angeles Airport Police, but also private concerns – every Class I Railroad in the United States and Canada has its own police force. However, as we’ve seen, there are airport police, not to mention the highway patrol present in many states (perhaps most famously represented by the California Highway Patrol, which appeared in the TV series CHiPs). So, why is it that in the UK there is just the one significant agency covering the transport network? The British Transport Police is one of three police forces in the United Kingdom defined as a “special police force” (that is one that does not have responsibility for policing a geographical area – the others are the Ministry of Defence Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary). Its name would suggest that it has a wide remit to secure the transport network. In fact, its jurisdiction is limited to:

Policing the various other light rail metro systems, as well as the whole railway network in Northern Ireland, comes under the purview of the local police force. Additionally, there are a number of small police forces that are responsible for various ports around the coast, while airports and the motorway network are the responsibility of local police forces. Although a police officer as set out in the Police Act 1996 is a sworn constable throughout England and Wales:

A member of a police force shall have all the powers and privileges of a constable throughout England and Wales and the adjacent United Kingdom waters.

Police Act 1996, Section 30 (1)

with the police in Scotland, detailed in the Police (Scotland) Act 1967, Section 17 (4), and Northern Ireland, in the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, Section 32 (2), having similar jurisdictions across the force areas in those constituent countries, there remains the question of jurisdiction in the event of an arrest – what happens (for example) if a police officer from Nottinghamshire Police pursues a suspect along the M1 across the boundary into Derbyshire and is then aided in the pursuit by colleagues from Derbyshire Constabulary? On a train this would not be an issue, as it is the British Transport Police’s responsibility. But, what happens if a suspect at Stansted Airport (responsibility of Essex Police) manages to escape onto a train at Stansted Airport station, and is then apprehended by the British Transport Police? While I have no problem with the railways having their own police force (as it does show how special the railways are :P), to me it seems that there is a certain logic to extending the powers of what is, after all, called the British Transport Police to cover a much wider extent of Britain’s transport network – railways, motorways and airports.

Would it be simpler for the British Transport Police to have responsibility over the transport network as a whole, rather than merely the railways?


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