Violence on Scotland's trains demands a zero-tolerance approach, but also greater understanding of the causes – Scotsman comment

Trains “overrun” by teenagers, drunk or high on drugs; a ScotRail employee chased with a makeshift flamer-thrower; another threatened with being stabbed just for asking to see a ticket.
British Transport Police have increased their patrols on some routes (Picture: John Devlin)British Transport Police have increased their patrols on some routes (Picture: John Devlin)
British Transport Police have increased their patrols on some routes (Picture: John Devlin)

A dossier drawn up by the RMT union paints a horrifying and unacceptable picture of the extent of lawlessness and violence on Scotland’s trains.

And, according to the British Transport Police, violent crime has increased eight per cent – a trend they expect to continue in the coming months.

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Other statistics hint at one reason why. Compared to 2019-2020, largely before the Covid pandemic hit, anti-social behaviour among under-18s has gone up by 63 per cent, and threatening and abusive behaviour has risen by nearly a third.

With young people cooped up over the past two years, some of them appear to have forgotten how to behave in public or have been unable to control their pent-up energies after being given their freedom. This, combined with Scotland’s age-old problems of drink and drugs, has combined to create a volatile situation in which public transport has become a focus.

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ScotRail staff threatened with knives, makeshift flame throwers and fire extingu...

Some teenagers appear to be using trains to charge their smartphones and use wifi, and are reluctant to pay for a ticket while doing so. The resulting confrontations with staff are getting so bad that some law-abiding passengers are switching to cars instead, while the RMT says staff, not unreasonably, may boycott problematic routes unless there is a greater police presence.

As revealed by the Scotsman previously, three members of a special ScotRail unit formed to tackle anti-social behaviour were attacked on a train over Easter, with one taken to hospital, so the risks are very real.

When responding to the immediate problems, it is clear there needs to be a zero-tolerance approach to such thuggery. Scotland cannot allow public transport to be so beset by violent hooligans that passengers stop using trains or services are forced to stop running.

However, it would be too easy to simply condemn, crack down and then carry on. If we are really seeking solutions, we have to delve a bit deeper into the root causes.

Only by understanding what is driving this trend and why young people are being drawn into it, will the expected rise in violence be prevented and order restored.