8 Nov 2011

Railway cable thefts reach ‘epidemic’ proportions

Network Rail admits track-side cable theft has reached epidemic proportions, with up to five daily attacks in the North East of England alone. North of England reporter Morland Sanders investigates.

It really doesn’t look much.

In a concrete trough, by the side of the branch line to Leeds are three black rubber pipes. Lift them up though, and they have a real weight to them. That’s because they are full of copper and they are the latest source of quick money for the criminally-minded in the north of England.

They can fetch up to £30 a metre in a scrap yard – either unscrupulous or unsuspecting – and the next stop will be the copper-hungry nations in the Far East, leaving us back here in the UK sitting in a delayed train.

Today, the Transport Select Committee met to discuss the problem of metal theft and said the crime had cost the rail industry £43m over the last three years. This morning, British Transport Police in South Yorkshire arrested three people they believe may have been ripping out signaling and power cables.

Read more: dramatic video of cable theft blaze
Railway cable thefts reach epidemic proportions (Reuters)

There has been a 47 per cent increase in the number of people detained in the north east of England for metal theft next to railway lines – and yet it would seem there is no shortage of those chancing their safety by pulling up some of the tens of thousands of miles of cable that border tracks.

Derek O’Mara, chief inspector of north command at the British Transport Police told Channel 4 News: “It is very significant, particularly in the north east.”

Network Rail are well aware of that.

From their regional headquarters in York, acting route manager Warrick Dent shows me sections of rail cable that have been savaged by a hacksaw.

Behind him, he points to large red blobs on a map indicating more than 100 attacks in a single place. They are perhaps where you would expect, places with high unemployment and the once proud tradition of mining or metal fabrication.

Warrick Dent, area general manager of Network Rail in the north east, said: “Every morning I check my pager and I can have up to five incidents a day, just between the Humber and the Scottish borders, it’s an epidemic – an absolute epidemic.”

The government says it is considering legislation to make it harder for thieves to pass on rail metal through scrap dealers – non-cash transactions and proof of identification may be all that is needed to help keep more cable trackside and make commuters a little more punctual.