10 Jun 2011

Train misery blamed on cable crime wave

Thousands of passengers were stranded for hours last night as 60 trains ground to a halt, after thieves targeting cables at a signal station in the south west.

South West Trains apologises for delays; as National Rail reports a rise in cable theft (Image: Getty)

Stranded passengers said they were left for hours with no ventilation or food, labelling South West Trains (SWT) “a disgrace”.

SWT has promised to review its response to disruptions, adding that it was “extremely angry and frustrated that mindless and irresponsible vandalism meant that many of our passengers had a terrible journey last night”.

Cable theft has been deemed the “biggest priority after the terrorist threat” by the British Transport Police.

There has been a 52 per cent jump in attacks in the past year – with Network Rail now battling six theft attempts a day. The crime wave costs the industry some £15m a year and has led to more than 16,000 hours of rail delays over the past three years.

Alongside other scrap metal, cable stolen in the UK often finds its way to the Far East where the value of copper and lead in particular has soared in the last decade.

I cannot over-emphasise just how serious these crimes are. Dyan Crowther, Network Rail

Last month, Dyan Crowther, director of operational services at Network Rail, said: “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.”

More from Channel 4 News: Rising metal thefts hit UK churches and transport

Network Rail said last night’s delays were due to an attempted cable theft at a substation at Farnborough, which resulted in a complete loss of the signalling in the Farnborough and Woking area.

(Above: Home Affairs Correspondent Andy Davies reports in February on rising metal thifts hitting the UK transport network)

Frustrated passengers waited for hours, with many resorting to jumping out of the emergency exits and walking down the tracks.

Emma Firth, who is eight months pregnant, was one of a group of passengers who abandoned a train outside Woking. It is understood she was threatened with arrest by a police officer.

Ms Firth told Radio 5 Live that she was helped off the train by a male passenger. “In my condition I wasn’t going to sleep overnight on a train, I had no food or drink,” she said.

One guard, with a torch, helped us walk across the track safely and was very polite but the police at the gates were very angry, saying we had trespassed. Emma Firth

“So the man gave me a piggy back off the train and helped me walk down the track.

“One guard, with a torch, helped us walk across the track safely and was very polite but the police at the gates were very angry, saying we had trespassed.”

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Sixty trains were affected – all from Waterloo. There were two trains where people were trying to get off and we had to get them back on.”

“Signalling was switched back on at 10.55pm and things are getting back to normal.”

SWT said its operations team worked through the night to get as many trains back into position but was forced to cancel some services this morning and run some shorter trains than usual.

A spokesman for SWT said today: “We are very sorry for the significant impact last night’s signal problems had on a large number of our passengers. We would like to thank them for their patience during some extremely difficult circumstances.”

Anyone with any information about cable theft should contact British Transport Police or Crimestoppers where they can report the crime anonymously and could receive up to £1,000 reward if their information leads to a conviction.

BTP can be contacted on 0800 40 50 40 and Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.