Cable theft costs us, and therefore ultimately the taxpayer, millions of pounds each year. 

The total cost to the economy is even higher – taking into account the impact of freight delays to power stations and supermarkets, and on passengers who miss appointments or have their day ruined.

Thieves target signalling cables, overhead power lines and even metal fences to sell for scrap.

Britain’s rail network is designed to fail safe, which means that when a cable is cut, trains are brought to a standstill. This protects passengers but can lead to lengthy, frustrating delays while the problem is found and fixed safely.

The thieves are also trespassing on the railway, endangering their lives and causing knock-on delaysacross the rail network.

Trespassing on the railway is illegal and dangerous. You could be taken to court and face a £1000 fine.

The dangers of trespass

Delays explained: trespass and vandalism on the railway

What you can do to help

You can help by reporting suspicious behaviour on the tracks to the British Transport Police:

  • 0800 40 50 40
  • Text 61016
  • In an emergency call 999

Or you can call Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.

How we're preventing cable theft, and more information about the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013

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.

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.

Sergeant Ben Randall-Webb from the Proactive CID team, British Transport Police