POLICE officers who patrol Britain’s railways are fighting a rearguard action against plans to switch them to Scottish control under new post-referendum powers.
The Scottish Government will take over British Transport Police (BTP) north of the Border if the Smith Commission proposals are implemented. The move has sparked fears among officers, believed to be shared by the force’s leadership, that its expertise would be harmed if BTP is split up.
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They also point out that dozens of trains cross the Border between England and Scotland every day.
Senior police figures supportive of the move said Police Scotland officers were often first on the scene at rail incidents. However, this has been disputed by BTP, which said it also regularly helped with other incidents.
The force revealed that its officers from Queen Street station in Glasgow were the first to arrive at the fatal bin lorry crash in December.
Scottish ministers have not said what would happen to the 200-strong BTP north of the Border, but it could operate as a separate unit in Scotland or merge with Police Scotland.
BTP Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, said the force’s position in Scotland remained “one of uncertainty” and it would “continue to highlight the concerns of our members”.
A Federation source added: “Policing Britain’s railways should be by a national force rather than divided for Scotland.”
Jim Fitzpatrick, a Labour member of the Commons transport committee, said: “This has come out of the blue. The strength of BTP is being a single service. It does excellent work, and creating an artificial border could impede its ability to work effectively.”
Fitzpatrick, a Scot who represents Poplar and Limehouse in east London, said: “There is a very strong logic to maintaining BTP as a national service, as it has been for decades.”
A former UK minister added: “There has been no discussion over benefits of the switch – the view is that just because it’s devolved, it’s better. I’m at a loss to see how this would improve the service.”
Watchdog Passenger Focus said a separate rail police force should be retained.
Passenger director David Sidebottom said: “Our research shows the majority of passengers are satisfied with their personal security while moving about the rail network, and a dedicated transport police force plays an important part in this. Passengers will want this to continue.”
Millie Banerjee, chair of the BTP Authority, which oversees the force, said it was discussing with Scottish ministers how to “develop the best possible model for policing the railways in Scotland”.
She added: “Our main priority is to ensure passengers are not put at risk by any changes.”
BTP declined to comment on the plans. Chief Constable Paul Crowther said: “The public can be assured that while discussions over future reforms take place, we will continue to provide the professional and specialist police service they expect.”
The Scottish Government said the five main political parties had agreed to BTP being devolved.
A spokeswoman said: “The officers and staff of BTP do an excellent job keeping our rail networks safe across Scotland.
“The Scottish and UK governments are now working to take forward the transfer of those functions.”