Chris Dos Santos will never forget the evening he set foot on the railway tracks. He had spent the day drinking with friends – and was on his way home when he and four others decided to walk along the line in the dark.
“I don’t remember the moment I touched it,” Chris recalls.
“All I remember was a thud and being on the floor and then there was just this horrendous smell of burnt hair and skin.”
Chris had stepped on the electrified third rail, sending a 750-volt shock through his body and stopping his heart.
“My body was tightening up and there were purple flashes every time my arms moved,” Chris remembers. “I got to a point where I knew it was my time… I accepted my fate.”
Remarkably his friends were able to get him off the electrified line and resuscitated him while they waited for an ambulance. But it would be many months before he could walk again.
Chris’s story is part of a growing number of incidents involving alcohol on Britain’s rail network. The number recorded has risen from 7,070 in 2010-11 to 9,378 in 2018-19.
That represents an increase of 33%, which Network Rail says is a “major concern”.
It has launched a poster campaign in recent weeks, urging those partying over the festive period not to have “next day regrets”.
The Christmas and New Year period tends to see an annual spike in the number of slips and trips on platforms, as well as more serious trespass incidents on the tracks.
In addition to safety concerns, it’s also having an impact on services, with more than 4,300 hours of delays nationally attributed to such incidents last year.
“If somebody stumbles off a platform in front of a train, we’re going to have to shut that line down and that’s going to delay hundreds of trains and tens of thousands of people,” says Kevin Groves from Network Rail.
British Transport Police has stepped up patrols at key stations this month ahead of New Year celebrations.
BTP Inspector Becky Warren says: “We’ve seen first-hand that alcohol can really affect your judgement and after a few drinks people often take greater risks, which can lead to people getting hurt or even killed.”
Chris, who is now 33, is still living with the injuries he sustained in 2015.
He added: “I still have nightmares, sleepless nights and anxiety. I find it very hard to deal with new situations, which I could have done very easily before. Things like meeting new people are now difficult. It has just changed me as a person and I never think I’ll be quite the same again.”
Chris has been working with the Saints Foundation at Southampton Football Club and local schools near his home in Totton to warn others of the dangers.
He has a simple message for those who might be tempted to venture onto the line after a few drinks: “Don’t ever take the shortcut. Mine was a longcut. It took me four months to get home and my life’s never been the same since.”