Health & safety 10 September 2019

Keeping Young People Safe: Ground-breaking safety film

Network Rail figures show that young people (aged 13-24) are more likely to trespass on the railway, and that 76% of trespass incidents involve more than one person under 18 – yet only 37% of young people deem the railway to be dangerous. So how could Network Rail educate this group – who typically do not consume traditional media – about the dangers of the newly electrified railway? The answer was to involve the very young people that needed protecting in creating a believable and powerful drama: 18. Centred around a main character’s 18th birthday, it highlights the devastating and far-reaching consequences of trespassing on electrified railway lines through hard-hitting performances from a talented cast.

Benefits at a Glance:

  • By working with our intended audience, we created an engaging and credible story that resonated with this group
  • Over 1 million views in first 3 weeks after going live
  • Viewers are able to share positive comments and views – and share the film – via an online platform. Organic viewers are a lot more engaged than those paid to view
  • The film is ‘route neutral’ enabling it to be used anywhere on the UK rail network by other communications teams
  • Adopted for use by Network Rail’s Community Safety Managers who deliver presentations in schools on a regular basis.

Research within schools between Bedford and Corby show that only 37% of young people deem the railway to be dangerous. Yet in the 12-month period before work on this safety campaign began, seven children were killed and 48 suffered life-changing injuries on the railway.

The challenge to the IPEM team was to engage this traditionally hard to reach audience and warn them of the dangers of an electrified railway, prior to switch on.


With this audience spending up to 21 hours a week online, most frequently on YouTube, the IPEM communications team decided to take a non-traditional approach: to create a short, impactful film, working with the intended audience to create the storyline, featuring actors they would recognise, and making it accessible on platforms they use.

The first step was to understand why this age group take risks. Using inspiring mentors, the team ran facilitated workshops with 250 students from schools near danger hotspots to both educate this audience and get their valid input.

Mentors gained the trust of the students, who felt confident enough to open-up about the risks they and their peer group take near the railway. They were also able to consider and discuss what would make them take notice of the dangers.

It transpired that young people think of death as an abstract concept. Rational consequences don’t resonate with them. However, they are deeply concerned about the possible repercussions on friends and family. It was also revealed that the single biggest reason for risky behaviour was found to be using the railway for short cuts.


This chimed with previous Network Rail research had shown that public perception of railway dangers are linked to trains and level crossings, and that the risk posed by electricity is not well understood. In most cases there is a general misconception that the electricity is only present when trains are passing and thereafter there is no danger. This insight had already led to the central message of the wider safety awareness campaign ‘Electrified Lines are Always On. So Always Stay Off’ – which this film project supports.

Through roleplay and group presentations during the school workshops the IPEM team was able to develop an authentic storyline, adopt the correct language and create scenarios and relationships put forward by the intended audience.

The storyline was then professionally scripted and cast with some rising young actors (including BAFTA-nominee Aimee Kelly and Harry Kirton from Peaky Blinders) in order to give the emotional depth required, strike the right non-authoritarian tone and encourage the intended audience to watch and share it with their peers.


The result was a 30-minute drama entitled ’18’ – since events take place around a central character’s 18th birthday. It highlights the devastating and far-reaching consequences of trespassing on electrified railway lines and includes some hard-hitting performances from its talented cast. It was filmed on location at the Rail Innovation and Development (RIDC) Tuxford, a former line that closely represents the operational railway and includes many characteristics found across the national network.



The team used the dedicated youth-curated YouTube platform ‘MYM’ to release the film. This stimulated debate and conversation around the subject by young people – providing them with high-quality content whilst also empowering and educating them.

The young actors – some of whom said that the material was among the most challenging they had ever worked with – also took to social media in order to promote it among their followers.

The impact was swift. Within three weeks the film had been viewed, commented upon and shared over one million times, and this number continues to grow. Comments demonstrated how the intended audience really engaged with the content.

The team shared the film with Network Rail Community Safety Managers and made it available via its corporate YouTube channel and website. The subsequent phases of safety engagement involve active promotion of the film, including screenings at school and community roadshow events until 2020 as the electrified infrastructure is constructed.


  • Extremely high audience reach and positive engagement
  • The film was viewed over 1 million times in the first three weeks. It has gone on to receive over 4.8 million views, 67k likes, 10k comments – with viewers stating that the film had made them cry, changed the way they view railway dangers and made them realise the consequences of taking risks
  • Feedback was equally positive from the schools that participated in workshops: Sam Harris, Head of Year at Rushden Academy, said: “The workshops provided students with a real insight into the dangers of playing on the railway. Students had an opportunity to express their opinions and personal views, as well as a chance to develop skills such as creativity, teamwork and presenting.”

Lessons Learned/Best Practice

  • When you need to engage with a hard to reach audience, it pays to invest time and effort to discover what really resonates. Typical approaches are likely to reap typical results.