British Transport Police (BTP) say they have investigated 29 incidents so far during this football season, up from 14 for the whole of the last season, while the number of cases referred to the procurator-fiscal for prosecution has quadrupled, from 10 to 40.
However, despite the apparently greater willingness to report sectarian behaviour, the area commander for BTP in Scotland says she is concerned that members of the public feel intimidated about giving evidence or responding to police requests for information.
In an interview with The Herald, Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird revealed that two cases publicised by police earlier this year had elicited no feedback from the public, saying she was "very disappointed" in the response.
One involved a group of 25 Rangers fans singing sectarian songs on a Glasgow train and the other involved an alleged assault on a 16-year-old on a Glasgow to Kilmarnock service after he asked a group of Celtic fans to stop singing. Police are still investigating the first incident, and two men, aged 26 and 27, have been reported to the procurator-fiscal in relation to the latter.
BTP, which polices the rail network, is now considering new measures to give the travelling public greater confidence in approaching police, including a text service passengers could use to report crimes anonymously.
Ms Bird said she thought fear of facing an accused in court played a role in deterring people from coming forward. However, she said confusion over what constituted a sectarian incident – particularly the debate over which football songs were considered sectarian – had also played a role.
"Politicians and police officers have been challenged up until now in terms of 'you tell me what is sectarianism'. A member of the public is going to feel the same," she said.
"The last thing they want is to go to court and somebody representing the defendant really tears into them and almost humiliates them by saying 'tell me what the Famine Song means; what's your understanding of this'.
"That's a really terrifying situation to be in as a member of the public."
Ms Bird said it was not for her officers to determine what constituted sectarian behaviour but, rather, to treat complaints seriously if members of the public felt threatened. She added: "Where does the fear sit, with the victim of the offender? It should not be with witnesses or victims, who should have absolute confidence they can come forward and not come out of court traumatised."
The increase in reported sectarian incidents comes after BTP undertook training by the Nil By Mouth, the charity set up to challenge sectarianism in Scotland.
The fight against sectarianism has been aided by the introduction of body-worn video cameras by police and a greater reliance on CCTV evidence, Ms Bird said.
"If there are problems on the way to the game, we can pick it up on CCTV and could have it ready for when they get back on the train afterwards," she said.
The force is also working more closely with ScotRail to share intelligence and respond to incidents reported by its staff, though Ms Bird said this had to be balanced against the danger of putting employees in vulnerable situations by reporting incidents.
The approach was welcomed yesterday by Dave Scott, campaign director at Nil By Mouth, who said: "Far too many so-called fans feel they are untouchable while travelling in packs and subject innocent bystanders to vile sectarian abuse and attacks.
"Sadly, this leads to people almost coming to expect such behaviour from supporters."