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Network Rail Pays Millions due to Rise in Cable Thefts

Network Rail LogoCopper cable theft has risen to staggering levels on the British rail network, which Network Rail says is costing them millions of pounds. Not only has the operator had to spend money on fixing the copper cables and paying compensation for delayed services to train operators, but it’s now taking on extra staff in order to catch the culprits.

The British Transport Police have reported that, in the year up until April, copper cable theft has increased 67% to 3,116 incidents. This has come along with a rise in metal prices and at a time when the country is struggling to recover from the recession, pushing poor groups into criminal acts. Now, however, maintenance staff for Network Rail working in the areas that have been worst-hit, say that the number of incidents has increased even more in the last 3 weeks. This has prompted the company to put a night shift in place for harassed staff.

Engineer Steve White is reported saying that the issue has definitely gotten worse in the last few weeks. It has gone from being a minor occurrence, to happening about 2 or 3 times a week in 2009, to now happening 10 or 12 times a week in some areas. The Blast Lane depot he oversees has now introduced a new 10pm to 6am shift due to the thefts becoming so frequent that staff were being called to the rails as many as 8 times a night. Most depots around Britain have introduced some kind of 24/7 shifts, he noted.

White went on to say that it’s daunting that fixing theft damage has become his new daily work. This has meant that they have less time to fix routine faults. He thinks it can only get worse, as people will find a way if they are desperate and determined. While the price of copper is expected to continue rising, the austerity measures don’t help, he added.

Aside from the extra shift put in place by Network Rail, the operator reports that they have spent £43 million in compensation and repair expenses over the last 3 years, which is due to thousands of these incidents leading to almost 1 million minutes of delays. On April 15, one incident near Newark cost the operator £620,758 in compensation. A cut to a line-side cable had caused 8,074 minutes of delays and 34 cancellations.

Although economic hardship is blamed for the increase in cable thefts, copper has tripled in price in less than 3 years to around £5,486 a tonne. This comes as fast-growing emerging markets (China, for example) demand more of the metal to feed its construction boom. Financial spectators have also caused the rise in price, as they have put tens of billions into investments for metal, hoping to quickly make a profit.



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