SEVENTEEN people were nearly hit by trains after dicing with death by crossing the region’s railway tracks.
Train bosses have raised major fears about people cutting across the lines after figures revealed the number of people who have had near misses.
Durham Viaduct has been flagged up as a trespassing hotspot, with rail chiefs claiming scores of people use the line as a shortcut.
In a bid to cut down on the number of near-hits, Network Rail has teamed up with British and World 400 metre hurdles champion Dai Greene to warn of the dangers.
Dai appears on an online video, where he can be seen taking to the train tracks for a test run.
But the top athlete struggles to complete the challenge in the dark, with the rain lashing down and unexpected hazards waiting to trip him up on the lines.
He said: “Day in day out, I train hard to make sure I am as quick as I can be. On the running track it’s important that my reactions are lightning fast, but on the train track, during filming, that didn’t count for much.
“The experience has brought to life just how many dangers there are on the rail tracks – most of which I knew nothing about.
“I hope that this film really helps Network Rail to show people that taking the risk is never worth it.”
Research by Network Rail revealed that 88 per cent of accidental trespass fatalities in the last decade were men, with about a third aged 18 to 25.
Phil Verster, route managing director for Network Rail, added: “We all know that young people, especially young men, think they are invincible.
“But if an Olympic athlete like Dai Greene cannot get out of the way of a train you have a really powerful message.
“Last year, a train driver reported a near miss with a person on the lines in the North East on 17 occasions. That’s 17 times when someone put themselves and others at risk.
“Short cuts cut short lives. Please stay off the railway.”
The video can be seen at www.facebook.com/TrackTests.
425 near misses
NATIONALLY, there were 425 recorded near misses between trespassers and trains between April 1, 2011 and February 29, 2012.
In the North East, there were 17 reports, which included people crossing the tracks to the opposite platform in stations after realising they were in the wrong place, jumping down to retrieve phones or wallets and walking alongside the tracks as a short cut home.
The peak ages for trespass fatalities are the late teens and the early twenties.
At 125mph a 450tonne train takes 2km, or 20 football pitches to stop.