THEY’VE been described as the forgotten force, but British Transport Police are very much on the front line of protecting people in Gwent.

In their DayGlo jackets and dark uniforms the officers are pretty much indistinguishable from their colleagues in Gwent Police, to the point where people perhaps presume a police officer is quite simply a police officer, but the BTP have a very distinct role in policing the UK’s railways.

The force employs 2,852 officers across the UK split into seven regional teams, of which Gwent falls into the Wales and Western area.

It’s the second largest geographical area in British Transport Police after Scotland, stretching from Birmingham to Wrexham, Penzance to Aberystwyth.

The force tackles what you might expect it to, vandalism on trains, abusive behaviour towards train staff and passengers, fare dodgers and people trespassing on the lines.

But officers are also at the forefront of the UK’s counter-terrorism efforts, leading the way in the fight against metal thieves and even taking to the trains to help tackle truant schoolchildren.

Although guided by the Home Office, unlike all other forces in the UK, British Transport Police are also part-funded by parties involved in the railways, like train operators and Network Rail.

This has helped further engender a spirit of information sharing and multi-agency work, which officers say has helped improve tackling crime.

Sgt Jonathan Cooze explains: “There’s a lot more information sharing now than, say, five-ten years ago, both between other forces and companies like Network Rail, and that has helped hugely in how we’ve cut crime on the railways.”

He sums up the force’s role as: “Keeping the railway moving, looking after people’s welfare and making sure people can travel safely and peacefully.”

The biggest issue the force deals with is counter-terrorism.

The force is understandably reticent about its exact operations in this field, but DS Guy Ellis says it’s a “24-hour” commitment.

After that, though, the officers all agree it is metal theft, one of the UK’s fastest-growing crimes and the scourge of the railways, costing the rail industry around £16 million a year. Network Rail alone has lost around £43 million in the last three years.

“It is not just the value of what is being stolen, it is the delays which are then incurred which means the train operators rack up fines.

They then pass those on to passengers, so it is something which affects everybody who uses the service,” DS Ellis said.

Outside day-to-day policing, what the force terms “shift response” sees officers attending to pick up an abusive passenger from the next station or going to check out a fatality on the lines, and they also commit a lot of time and resources to helping to manage big events like Six Nations rugby internationals and working in the community.

They run workshops across Gwent trying to educate pupils about the dangers the railways can pose and how to stay safe.

TPS Dave Morris said: “People in Wales, particularly in the Valleys, still have this idea of the railways as a short cut.

“They think they know the passenger timetables and they know the lines well.

“But they don’t know the freight timetables and modern trains, travelling at 125mph, they are much quieter. You can’t outrun a train, it’s on you before you know.

With a view towards electrification obviously coming to the region it is something which people need to be even more aware of.”