Two incidents on level crossings in Kent within a day of each other have sparked a warning from Network Rail not to take risks around the railway.

The most shocking incident at Whitehall Lane level crossing near Canterbury on Saturday, saw two young girls and two men walk through a gate past a red light and run across in front of an oncoming train. The group actually left the railway a matter of seconds before the Southeastern Margate-St Pancras train passed them.

In the other incident, on Sunday, a group of dirt bikers cut the padlocks off a locked and bolted level crossing at Shornemead, near Gravesend, to access private property. The crossing is kept locked with only authorised users having keys.

Network Rail Southern region’s head of security, crime and resilience, Gerardo Chiariello, said: “I’m really shocked by the attitude of these adults in the recent incidents. I sometimes hear people talking as if trespass and misusing level crossings is something young people do, but these were people in positions of responsibility for young lives and they thought running across in front of a train was a good example to set.

“The bigger picture is that we’ve actually seen a drop in trespassing* and other crime on our railway in the South East, through targeted action by us and the British Transport Police, and also the impact of COVID, but these incidents are worrying coming so close to each other.

“It’s absolutely crucial that everyone understands the dangers of the railway and how to treat it with respect.”

British Transport Police Inspector Jonathan Pine, who is embedded in Network Rail’s crime team in Kent and Sussex, said: “Trains take a long time to stop, from full speed it could even be a full kilometre, and in both of these incidents a single person falling over or off their bike could have been fatal.

“We’ve passed the video of the incident at Shornemead to our officers to investigate and I’d urge anyone who recognises the bikes and bikers to get in touch. This was one of the most blatant examples of trespassing we’ve ever seen, not to mention a risk to all the bikers themselves as they crossed the railway and breached lockdown rules.

“The COVID crisis needs everyone to look out for each other and their families and these incidents showed a disturbing lack of any sort of sense of responsibility. The British Transport Police and Network Rail will be working as a team with operators in the coming weeks to make sure the low level of trespassing and crime we have seen lately doesn’t rise again.

“We’ve also got a simple message: The instructions at level crossings are clear. Don’t ignore them.”

Anyone with information on the Shornemead incident should text the British Transport Police on 61016. In an emergency, dial 999.

Jim Maxwell, Head of Drivers for Southeastern, added: “Our drivers are critical workers delivering a very important service to get people who have to travel

to where they need to be during the current crisis, and don’t deserve the extra stress that these types of incidents cause.

“Reckless trespass incidents like this can have a profound effect on our drivers’ mental health, particularly when there are younger people involved, and are further compounded if the driver has been unfortunate enough to have been previously involved in a fatality, with the potential to cause flashbacks. It often means that the drivers have to take time off whilst they recover, and are supported through their ordeal.

“I fully support our colleagues at Network Rail and the British Transport Police in trying to identify and pursue the culprits.”

Network Rail has worked with British Transport Police on the uncompromising You vs Train campaign for three years, aiming to educate young people on the devastating and wide-reaching consequences of trespass.

*In Network Rail Kent and Sussex which also covers South London, trespass is down 31% year year to date, and vandalism is down 55% year to date.