How many times recently have you heard that trains have been delayed or cancelled due to cable theft on the railway? Organised rail related metal theft has been causing misery to many rail commuters of late and is on the increase, rising to a record 2627 incidents last year, up by 9.6% on 2010. In these recession hit times people are risking electrocution and being caught by the police stealing copper cabling from lines, it’s a risky business considering up to 33,000 volts can be flowing through it at any one time! At least 2 people are being killed every month according to London’s Metropolitan Police.
It has cost an estimated £43 million in repair costs and compensation pay outs since 2009. The biggest single theft was in July 2011, 150m of fibre optic cable and 18km of earth bonding cable were taken, each worth £300,000. The price of copper continues to rise and the forecast is that there will be a 26% increase over the next 12 months, whilst analysts are predicting a shortfall of 234,000 tons as demand increases by 2.5% next year.
Scrap metal is a £5 billion industry in the UK . Each year 15,000 tons of scrap is stolen costing the economy an estimated £770 million a year in disruption to services and replacing stolen components. The government is cracking down on the illegal trading of scrap, calling for more robust licensing, plus a strict ban on cash deals, with the suggestion that there should also be a holding period for newly purchased scrap so that payments have time to be processed, thus making it harder for thieves to dispose of stolen cable. Police also need to have the power to close down rogue scrapyards, proper records should be kept for customers and a provision that property handled in breach of the proposed rules would be treated as criminal assets. Once caught tougher sentences need to be put in place for the cable thieves and the rogue scrap dealers who assist them.
Network Rail has fought back by identifying its cable in various ways, however, industry sources concede that once the cable cores are extracted and melted down they become untraceable. The thieves have been trying new techniques, including at least one attempt to melt cable at the scene with a domestic barbeque……!
The railways are not the only industry to be affected by metal theft, there have been incidents around the country in which homes, businesses, churches and even hospitals have suffered power cuts and surges as a result of thieves stealing copper from power substations. Telephone cables are also targeted with BT stating a 12% rise in attacks on its network last year compared to 2010.
So with the recession still biting hard, what do you think can be done to resolve the issue? Feel free to let off steam (maybe this is the answer?? back to steam engines….!) and tell me your cable theft travel woes……