NEW figures have revealed the extent of trespassing and vandalism on railways in the region.

Almost 600 incidents, including objects placed on the lines and missiles thrown at trains, have been reported to Network Rail over the past two years - almost one a day.

Last year, the number of reported crimes rose by 20 per cent. But the problem may be far worse because many incidents go unreported.

The figures come as Darlington MP Alan Milburn revealed he had tabled five questions to be asked in the House of Commons on the issue.

Mr Milburn is concerned about the levels of prosecution of trespassers.

Yesterday, the British Transport Police said only 20 people in the region were punished for trespass and vandalism last year.

The new figures reveal more than 125 missiles were thrown at trains, 50 objects were placed on lines and 350 people were spotted trespassing. There were a further 57 incidents of vandalism.

The figures cover the East Coast Main Line from Newcastle to York, and the route from Saltburn, east Cleveland to Bishop Auckland, County Durham.

The statistics come a week after The Northern Echo launched its No Messin' campaign following the deaths on Good Friday of Stuart Adams, 15, and Lee Mullis, 14, on a railway line at the Five Arches Bridge, in Darlington.

No Messin' aims to highlight the dangers of railway crime while promoting productive activities for young people.

After the boys' deaths it emerged Darlington was the worst place in the country for railway vandalism last year, and one of the worst for trespassing.

Mr Milburn said last night something needed to be done to "stem the tide of fatalities".

He said railway crime was still a major problem in Darlington and added that he had been contacted this week by a man from the town's North Road, who was extremely concerned that young people were still trespassing on the tracks near his home.

Mr Milburn met Network Rail chiefs in Darlington the day the No Messin' campaign was launched.

He said: "I was horrified to learn of the number of incidents around railway tracks.

"Last year, 34 people were killed, and this year there have been two local deaths.

"We have to learn from this lesson and have to stem the tide of fatalities. Children need to know that playing on railway tracks is dicing with death.

"But it is not just kids, there are thousands of incidents of trespassing every year with remarkably few prosecutions and I have tabled questions in Parliament about the levels of prosecutions of trespassers."

A spokeswoman for Network Rail said: "We need to ensure that the justice system delivers a deterrent that helps our educational work to keep young people off the railway.

"Our educational programme is not just directed at young people, but also features magistrates and justices of the peace to ensure that they are fully aware of the seriousness and potentially life-threatening consequences of railway crime."

Sergeant Dave McMenemy, of the British Transport Police, said the force prosecuted people where possible.

He said the level of punishment depended on previous convictions, but under-18s with a clean record might get a written warning, while adults with a clean record were likely to be cautioned.

He said three cases had been dealt with successfully this year.

David Mallender, spokes-man for train operator Transpennine Express, said: "The railway is not a safe place to be unless you're on a train, if you trespass you are exposing yourself to injury or death.

"When you throw a stone at a train you are throwing it at the driver and the passengers, putting them at risk, so please think twice."