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80,000 pounds for 'safer stations'

A pioneering project to make railway stations safer for women who fear being attacked or robbed has been given the go-ahead.

The scheme comes after a survey showed 85 per cent of women were concerned about safety. Many made huge detours to avoid getting off at isolated or badly lit platforms.

It will involve four south London stations - Sydenham Hill, Denmark Hill, West Dulwich and Nunhead. All are open stations, which have no ticket collectors and are often unstaffed outside peak hours.

South Eastern, one of the companies that has taken over from Network SouthEast in running trains in south-east London and Kent, has agreed to earmark pounds 40,000 for better lighting, emergency telephones and mirrors for blind corners.

Southwark council will spend pounds 40,000, too, making areas near the stations safer.

Tessa Jowell, Labour MP for Dulwich, who conducted the survey and has been campaigning for improvements, said: 'When I pursued this with the police, I found they had good cause for concern. In parts of my constituency, over 80 per cent of street crime takes place within 200 yards of railway stations. There is no better way of dealing with crime and the fear of crime than putting staff back on platforms and in ticket offices.

The move towards open stations, with lower staffing levels, has been widely introduced in the south-east region in the past few years. According to Ms Jowell, since staffing levels at London's stations was cut, crime has increased.

In all, 70,154 incidents were reported on the British Rail network in 1992, a 35 per cent increase on the 51,779 incidents 10 years earlier. Over the same period, BR staffing levels have halved. In 1993, up to 35,000 crimes were reported at BR stations, staffed and unstaffed, in an area centred on London and stretching to East Anglia and the south coast.

Travellers using Sydenham Hill are concerned at the poor access from Kingswood estate. They have to use a poorly lit, steep flight of stairs through a wooded area - ideal for crime.

South Eastern is keen to work with local councils to improve safety in and around stations and sees the Dulwich initiative as the first of many.

'We need to take positive steps in managing crime on the system,' said David Ewart, media relations officer. 'The money can be spent flexibly, whether on modifying the station so restricted view areas are taken out or by replacing high fences with transparent panelling.'

But he ruled out platform video cameras as probably too expensive, and thought it unlikely more staff would be employed.

'Station staff they may well not be able to do anything about vandalism.

South Eastern prefers to rely on its mobile teams and on British Transport and local police.