Graffiti in public places can make passengers feel unsafe and, if not dealt with quickly, can lead to further undesirable activity taking place. It can also create a climate of fear for those using and working on the railways.

British Transport Police officer

Graffiti also poses safety issues. Vandals often put their lives at risk in the act of spraying difficult surfaces, such as bridges or trains in sidings.

And the costs of cleaning up are enormous:

  • Network Rail estimate that it costs at least £5million per year to clean up graffiti, not including the loss of revenue or delays caused to the service
  • London Underground meanwhile says graffiti costs them a minimum of £10million per year, and it would cost about £38million to replace all of the graffiti-etched windows on every Tube train
  • Dealing with graffiti also diverts valuable police and staff resources. Hundreds of thousands of staff hours are taken up in cleaning, repairs and police time
  • London Underground devotes some 70,000 hours a year just to cleaning up graffiti.

Our stance

With these issues in mind, we work with rail operators to achieve reductions in this type of crime. In 2012/13 the total number of graffiti-related offences reported to us was down seven per cent on the previous year.

Graffiti vandals fall into two main categories – the serious vandals and the opportunistic scrawlers. We take different approaches to tackle each.

The serious vandal

There are a small number of serious graffiti vandals in the country who do a lot of damage to the rail environment.  

Our officers mount operations to detect offenders, painstakingly gathering evidence, targeting suspects, implementing handwriting and forensic analysis and using surveillance.

For serious vandals, who normally use "tags" to identify themselves, the aim is to get their work seen by as many people as possible. As a result, we encourage rail companies to take trains out of service as soon as the offence is discovered to act as a deterrent.  

We also employ a number of prevention techniques that have proved successful against the serious vandal. Our Crime Reduction Advisors work with railway businesses on security for sidings and sheds, stations and trains and we recommend the use of anti-graffiti surfaces and paints to deter offenders.

Serious vandals are often involved with other types of crime, such as drugs and robberies, and our efforts to bring them to justice can help to reduce other instances of crime on the railways too.

The scrawler

We have found that the best way to tackle the opportunist scrawler is to implement robust prevention techniques, such as those mentioned above, combined with good station design with all round visibility. We also encourage the use of video surveillance cameras to act as a deterrent.