Cable theft on the increase as passengers suffer across GB

Cable thieves are ruining the lives of millions of passengers across Britain and costing the railway industry some £15 million a year as they target the railway for metal to sell as scrap.

Criminals are targeting the cables which control vital rail infrastructure such as signals and points, causing delays to tens of thousands of trains and millions of people.

GB-wide figures released by Network Rail today reveal a £43m cost to this crime-spree over the past three years, resulting in over 16,000 hours of delay.

In Scotland since 2008 there have been:

  46 incidents of cable theft
  11,800 delay minutes – or almost 200 hours
  £481,249 lost through compensation costs for delays and disruption

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Dyan Crowther, director, operational services at Network Rail, said: “These criminal acts have to stop. Every day passengers and essential freight deliveries upon which our economy relies are being delayed by thieves looking to make a quick buck at our expense.

“I cannot over-emphasise just how serious these crimes are. Cable thieves deny passengers the service they rightly expect and, through the massive cost to the industry, deny everyone improvements to rail services.

“We are doing everything we can to protect the railway and will continue to work closely with British Transport Police and other rail partners to do everything in our power to deter thieves and bring those who attack our network to justice.”

In 2010/11:

- £16.5m was lost through cable theft

- Nearly 1,000 individual attacks on essential rail systems - a 52% jump on the previous year

- Passenger services delayed by more than 6,000 hours

- BTP recorded 3,000 crimes

- BTP made more than 900 arrests

Alan Pacey, Assistant Chief Constable of British Transport Police, said: “The railways have seen significant delays and cancellations as a result of thieves cutting and stealing signalling and power cables from the side of the track.

“But we are working to tackle the issue and in the past few months have seen significant jail sentences handed down to cable thieves put before the courts.

“We are determined to send a clear message that such attacks on our critical infrastructure are unacceptable and the police and rail industry are working together to tackle the problem.”

Methods used to deter and catch the thieves include:

  Dedicated BTP task force, increased patrols, intelligence led policing. Priority second only to terrorism.
  Network Rail has recently funded extra, dedicated officers
  Partnership working with the Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA).
  National intelligence cell with members from BTP, Network Rail and soon external non-rail partners.
  Use of the Network Rail helicopter, CCTV, forensic marking, trembler alarms and other devices to protect the cable.
  Fast response teams to get trains on the move as quickly as possible.
  Introduction of new type of cable that is easier to identify and harder to steal.
  Use of approved scrap yards for disposals of used materials.

Gary Cooper, head of operations at the Association of Train Operating Companies, added: “Train companies want to do all they possibly can to reduce the number of cancellations and delays caused by cable theft, which regularly leads to considerable disruption for many of their passengers.

“Operators and the industry as a whole are determined to crack down on the thieves, whose actions lead to extra work for staff and cost of millions of pounds, money which could otherwise be invested in improving services for passengers. The thieves are also putting themselves at risk of serious injury.

“Train companies are working closely with Network Rail and BTP to reduce and eventually eliminate this dangerous and disruptive crime, but tougher measures are needed to help tackle it.”