August 30, 2008

Copper Thieves Costing Network Rail Millions ; And They Could Be Putting Own Lives at Risk

By Dan Warburton

SOARING copper prices are fuelling thefts of signal wiring across the North East and costing Network Rail millions of pounds in delays, repairs and extra security.

The latest figures from the train company indicate that since the beginning of April, 136 incidents of copper theft have caused more than 25,600 minutes of delays in the region.

That amounts to 427 hours, or nearly 18 days, in only four months of operation.

The theft and vandalism has hit Network Rail on a national level, costing the company almost pounds 10m.

Warrick Dent, area general manager for Network Rail, stressed that the thefts do not put passengers in danger and said extra measures had been put in place to stave off the thefts.

He said: "The selfish and dangerous actions of the people responsible for these thefts have resulted in major disruption to passengers. We are determined to help catch those responsible. We work closely with British Transport Police to keep the railways running but we need the public to help us to protect and maintain their services. I am making a personal appeal to anyone who knows the people behind these crimes to come forward with information."

Analysts believe the huge demand for copper is being driven by an explosion in the Chinese copper market as the country deals with a construction boom and a number of large-scale developments. Last year, Network Rail spent pounds 2m in the North East on measures to cut the number of thefts, including an effort to make courts impose deterrent sentences.

It is thought resulting delays are detrimental to the economy of the North East, as businesses struggle to meet tight schedules. Ross Smith, head of policy at the North East Chamber of Commerce, said: "What is a major problem for businesses is when train times are unpredictable.

"That makes it very difficult to plan journeys, particularly because geographically this region is somewhat isolated from the rest of the country.

"That makes us more reliant on the transport infrastructure, and it's critical that reliability is maintained.

"One of the most important infrastructures for us in the North East is the East Coast Main Line, and that really is an impressive service.

"But what is the biggest concern is that we reach our capacity on that service. There is definitely a case for a high-speed link to be built so that we are prepared for that.

"In the more immediate future, vandalism is a major problem and that's something that needs to be guarded against."

Det Chief Insp Danny Snee said a "cable squad" had been formed to undertake regular round-the-clock patrols targeting hotspot crime areas across the region. And last night he said the vandalism was not only causing commuter chaos, but was a danger to those who risked their lives scaling the tracks.

He said: "Cable theft is an extremely dangerous crime which is costly to the rail industry and causes hours of delays to thousands of passengers who rely on the rail network. Railway lines are operational 24 hours a day and trespassing can prove fatal.

"Strong currents also pass through the cables and can pass 650 volts through anyone who touches them. Those who steal cable are not only risking a prison sentence, they are risking their lives."


First four four-week periods of financial year 2008/2009

Incidents and minutes delayed

Period 1 37 6,400

Period 2 30 7,000

Period 3 35 11,063

Period 4 34 1,170

Total 136 25,633

Comment 10

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