The theft of railway cables caused over 10,000 minutes of delays to passengers across Wales and Borders in 2017 – a 240% increase on the previous year.
Thieves risk their lives to steal cable from the railway, which brings them little financial reward but costs taxpayers millions each year and causes misery for rail passengers. When a live cable is cut, it can cause a power failure on the network, turning all signals powered by the damaged cable to red and bringing trains to a standstill. This makes it safe for passengers and teams on the track investigating the problem, but can lead to lengthy, frustrating delays while engineers repair or replace the cable.
One theft, which took place on a particularly busy part of the rail network in Wales and Borders last year, affected 387 train services and caused a combined total of 4,532 minutes of delay.
Network Rail works closely with partners Arriva Trains Wales and the British Transport Police to minimise disruption to passengers, and find those responsible.
British Transport Police officers have increased patrols near the railway, meaning they are able to respond quickly to incidents of theft. Network Rail also protects cable with forensic marking agents, making it easier to track down criminals and secure prosecutions.
However, with over 1,500 miles of railway in Wales and Borders, when thieves do steal cable it has a huge impact on passengers and the rail industry is appealing to passengers and members of the public to contact British Transport Police if they notice anything suspicious on or near the railway.
Bill Kelly, chief operating officer for Network Rail in Wales and Borders, said: “Cable theft is not a victimless crime – far from it. Train delays and cancellations directly affect people going about their daily lives, such as getting to and from work and visiting family.
“With more passengers travelling on our network than ever before, even a small delay can have a huge impact on the network. We work closely with our partners Arriva Trains Wales to minimise disruption when incidents do occur, but crimes like cable theft cause unnecessary delays to passengers at an incredible cost to the rail network.
“Not to mention the fact that trespassing on the railway is extremely dangerous and cable thieves risk serious injury or death. We want everyone home safe every day and we continually look for ways to protect the network from thieves, working with British Transport Police to prosecute anyone caught carrying out metal thefts.”
Sergeant Ben Randall-Webb, from the Proactive CID team in the British Transport Police, said: “Cable theft not only results in significant delays and cancellations right across the rail network, but any attempt to steal cable is also incredibly dangerous, and anyone seeking to do so risks serious injury – or even death – through electrocution.
“Technological and forensic advances are making life more and more difficult for thieves and are increasing the opportunities for us to detect criminals. Offences linked to theft of metal on the railway can attract a penalty of up to life imprisonment, so the implications are severe.
“Despite the obvious danger and relative lack of reward, people are still willing to gamble with their lives for the sake of a few metres of cable. However, the irony is that railway cable has no real value outside the railway industry, yet the cost to replace it is extremely high. In fact, thieves will struggle to get any money at all, as scrap metal dealers are highly unlikely to accept any cable.” Sgt Randall-Webb added: “Members of the public can also play their part in the fight against cable theft. You are our eyes and ears on the network, so I would urge everyone – particularly commuters, regular passengers and those that live near the railway – to be vigilant and report any suspicious activity, people or vehicles near the railway. If it looks or feels out of place, it probably is.”
Bethan Jelfs, Customer Services Director for Arriva Trains Wales: “Driving down cable thefts from our network is vital in order to provide the best possible service for our customers.
“Cable theft causes considerable disruption, which then has a knock on effect all across the rail network.
“We are committed to working closely with our partners in Network Rail and the BTP to reduce these crimes and get back up and running again as quickly as possible if and when it does occur.”
Anyone with information about cable theft, or who notices any suspicious activity, can contact British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40 or text 61016.