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The British Transport Police (BTP) is the police force for the railways. It provides a policing service to Network Rail, rail and freight operators, their staff and their passengers throughout England, Wales and Scotland. It is also responsible for policing the London Underground System, the Docklands Light Railway, the Midland Metro tram system, Croydon Tramlink, Sunderland Metro, Glasgow Subway and Emirates AirLine.

The BTP is unlike other police forces in the UK in that:

  • it operates nationally across the entire railway network in Great Britain,
  • it is primarily funded by the railway industry and not from the public purse and;
  • unlike territorial police forces, which are the responsibility of the Home Office, the Department for Transport is responsible for the BTP.

The BTP has been found to be a high performing force. It was rated ‘good’ by the inspectorate of constabulary in 2018. The inspection report noted that the BTP “compares favourably with the best performing Home Office forces at keeping people safe and reducing crime”.

The British Transport Police Authority (BTPA)

The British Transport Police Authority is a non-departmental public body sponsored by the Department for Transport. It is responsible for overseeing the BTP. The BTPA sets the BTP’s long-term policing strategy and annual policing plans. The BTPA raises funding from the railway industry for the cost of running the BTP and allocates those funds to it. In 2018/19 the BTPA allocated funding of £313m to BTP.

Staff numbers

In 2017/18 the BTP was staffed by around 3,080 police officers, 1,530 police staff and 270 Police Community Support Officers.

A ‘National Infrastructure Police force’?

The 2015 Strategic Defence and Security Review contained proposals to explore combining BTP with other infrastructure police forces. This policy was also mentioned in the Conservative Party manifesto for the 2017 General Election. The Government has been reviewing infrastructure policing, but it has yet to announce formal plans for the creation of a ‘National Infrastructure Police Force’.

BTP in Scotland

Railway policing is a devolved matter in Scotland. It is the policy of the Scottish National Party to integrate railway policing with regular policing in Scotland. The Scottish Parliament passed the Railway Policing (Scotland) Act 2017 in August 2017. This Act provided a statutory basis by which the BTPA could be abolished in Scotland and its functions transferred to the Scottish Police Authority. The 2017 Act is seen as the ‘first step’ in the process of integrating railway policing with regular policing in Scotland. Secondary legislation is needed to commence its provisions.

Since the passing of the Act, plans to integrate the BTP in Scotland with Police Scotland have stalled. The policy has proven controversial with stakeholders in the railway industry.

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