If you’re a hobby drone pilot, you might be tempted to fly your drone over railroad tracks. After all, there are some great photo and video opportunities there. But before you take to the skies, it’s important to understand the risks involved.
Network Rail, the organisation that oversees the country’s railway infrastructure, has issued a statement warning against such activity:
“It can be illegal to fly a drone on or near the railway. If in doubt please contact the Air Operations team via the Network Rail contact us process or email firstname.lastname@example.org“
So if you’re in doubt about whether it’s safe to fly your drone in a certain area, contact Network Rail for more information.
Here’s a full breakdown of what you need to know about flying a drone over railroad tracks in the UK.
The Risks of Flying a Drone Over Railroad Tracks
Although there are some great drone photography and video opportunities to be had by flying a drone over railroad tracks, it’s important to understand that this is an incredibly dangerous activity. We would not recommend doing this at all. There are too many risks involved, including the possibility of colliding with a moving train.
A few reasons you should avoid flying drones over railroad tracks:
- Endangering people working on the railway;
- Disrupting urgent track inspections that are being carried out by authorised
- employees or contractors;
- Disrupt a search for a missing or vulnerable person by the British Transport or police
- Cause damage to railway property and equipment.
What Happens if You Fly A Drone Over a Railroad Track UK?
It can be very dangerous to fly a drone over railroad tracks. There are many risks involved, such as the possibility of colliding with a moving train. You could also end up hurting people who are working on the railway or disrupting track inspections. So if you’re thinking of doing it, make sure you get permission from Network Rail first!
If you fly a drone over railroad tracks, you could be liable for any damage caused to the railroad. This includes damages to railroad property and equipment. As well as any injuries or fatalities that occur as a result of your actions.
When flying over a railroad in the UK you should:
- Always comply with the Civil Aviation Authority’s Drone and Model Aircraft Code;
- Note that you could be personally liable for any damage caused to the railway infrastructure by you or your drone if you do not have Public Liability Insurance of at least £5,000,000;
- Be aware that you could be prosecuted under Article 240 or 241 of The Air Navigation Order 2016
- Article 240 – ‘A person must not recklessly or negligently act in a manner likely to endanger an aircraft, or any person in an aircraft’ [Note: Network Rail also utilises a fleet of Helicopters that routinely fly around the infrastructure.]
- Article 241 – ‘A person must not recklessly or negligently cause or permit an aircraft to endanger any person or property’
How To Get Permission To Fly Your Drone Over a Railway Track UK?
If you’re a qualified commercial drone pilot with a GVC, you may find some jobs are in close proximity to rail tracks. However, before you take on any such job, it’s important to understand the risks involved. Flying a drone near or over railroad tracks can be incredibly dangerous, so it’s important to get permission from Network Rail before you start flying.
Here are the Steps to Notifying Network Rail of Your Planned Flight
Understand The Drone Laws Around Railroad Flights
Familiarize yourself with the relevant legislation governing the operation of drones near, on or over Network Rail infrastructure. This includes, but is not limited to, Network Rail’s standard NR/L3/OPS/251 Unmanned Aircraft System (Drone/UAS) Operations, which can be found at Network Rail’s website (ihs.com).
Submit A Notification Enquiry
Permission to fly near or over Network Rail infrastructure shall be requested from Network Rail Air Operations via the Flight Management System (FMS). The Network Rail Air Operations department can be contacted via email@example.com.
Following approval obtained via the flight notification procedure, Network Rail inhouse UAS/drone operators and commercial UAS/drone operators deployed by a framework company may be permitted to fly over or closer than 50m to Network Rail infrastructure below the stated safe weight.
After getting approval, drone pilots and commercial operators may be allowed to fly their drones over railroad tracks. If the drone is below a certain weight, it is safe to fly closer than 50m to the infrastructure. However, operators seeking to fly closer than 50 metres to the infrastructure must provide valid insurance documentation and evidence of a risk assessment.
Conduct a Pre-Flight Risk Assessment
A risk assessment should be conducted for the proposed operation in order to identify and mitigate any potential hazards. The assessment should include consideration of boundary ownership, track worker distraction, moving trains/line speeds, electrification, and lineside hazards, and localised Radio Frequency from GSM-R and Signal.
This should include, but is not limited to:
- Boundary ownership – you are wholly responsible for operating a drone near, on or over Network Rail infrastructure and must follow relevant UK legislation
- Track worker distraction – trains can move quickly and unexpectedly and track workers are potentially vulnerable to being distracted by drones
- Moving trains / line speeds – ensure that you are aware of the speed at which trains operate on the relevant section of track and plan your flight accordingly
- Electrification and lineside hazards – beware of overhead line equipment and conductor rails which may pose a risk to your drone
- Localised Radio Frequency from GSM-R and Signal systems – Radio Frequency from these sources can interfere with the operation of drones
Agree On A System of Alerting Of An Incident
Drone operators shall have a system in place to notify the following railroad company at the time of the incident. In addition to the mandatory reporting process, this system should be able to provide timely and accurate information about the nature of the incident. This will allow the railroad company to determine if any additional action needs to be taken in order to mitigate the risk of further incidents.
In an emergency you should contact the Route Control Manager (RCM) with:
- Exact location, Engineer Line Reference, What Three Words or GPS Coordinates
- State what the incident is
- Which track is affected by the incident
- What is the danger to the track
- Stay in communication with the RCM and do not make any attempts to recover the UAS/Drone
In the event of a drone accident, incident or occurrence, a written report must be sent to Network Rail Air Operations within 24 hours. Include as much detail as possible in the report, such as time, location, whether there was any damage and if so, what kind, and any injuries that resulted.
This report shall include:
- Time of incident;
- Date of incident;
- Location of the incident, including full grid reference or latitude and longitude
- The drone operator’s name
- Details of equipment involved
- Detailed description of the occurrence
- Any witnesses and their contact details
- Photographs of the incident location including any equipment involved
- Location to neighbouring lineside equipment plus the aircraft itself prior to it being moved is safe to do so
It is important to follow the steps above in order to fly a drone near or over railroad tracks safely. This includes submitting a notification enquiry, conducting a pre-flight risk assessment and having a system of alerting in place in case of an incident. Failure to do so may result in dangerous consequences.
Flying a drone over railroad tracks is dangerous and is not something we would recommend hobbyists do. If you want to take photos or videos of trains, find a safe vantage point that is well away from the tracks. You can also contact the railroad company and ask for permission to fly in their area. However, only do this if you have experience flying drones and are a fully insured drone service.
Leslie Drones is the UK’s leading drone survey company, with a wealth of experience in providing high-quality aerial surveys and data to clients across a range of industries. We have unrivalled expertise in using drones for surveying, mapping and inspection purposes, and our team of skilled professionals are dedicated to delivering outstanding results every time. So if you need accurate, reliable data collected quickly and efficiently, contact Leslie Drones today – we’re always happy to help.