Rail Industry Focus

14.09.17

Keeping an eye on cable theft

Source: RTM Aug/Sep 17

RTM’s David Stevenson reflects on recent cable theft figures from Network Rail.

I remember one of the early features I wrote for RTM was in the 2014 Aug/Sept edition entitled ‘Curbing cable theft on the railway’, and while the national statistics suggest we are still on a downward trajectory, recent news stories make for worrying reading. 

Network Rail has released its updated ‘National Performance Affecting Cable Theft Summary’ document, which covered figures to 15 August, and highlighted that so far in 2017-18 there have been 24 incidents leading to a total of 11,559 delay minutes. 

While this figure is significantly down from 2013-14 when 179 incidents took place, and delay minutes stood at 68,497, it is slightly concerning because during the whole of 2016-17 there were just 41 reported cases. We are currently at 24 incidents with eight more reporting periods still to come. 

When you look at the incident numbers as well, this year they seem to be more consistent with four reported issues in four out of the five periods – there was a spike to eight incidents in one window. When you look at the data over the last few years the numbers seem to yo-yo a lot more. Perhaps this is because, as Detective Chief Inspector Alison Evans, the former head of the metal theft unit at British Transport Police (BTP), once told me, cable theft is ‘dying off’ among low-level offenders. I do hope this is still the case. 

But what about high-level offenders? As many of our readers will recall, Network Rail recently issued a call saying that police were hunting thieves who stole more than £90,000 of copper from the railway. It was also a significant amount of wire, some 3,650 metres of it in the Staffordshire area. 

The infrastructure owner added that the total cost to the British taxpayer of replacing the cable currently stands at around £300,000. 

At the time, Karl Weller, Network Rail section manager based at Stafford, made this impassioned plea: “When signalling cables are removed the signalling and telecommunication systems of the railway do not work and trains can’t run. The impact on customers will get worse if these thieves are not caught. 

“If you see anything suspicious – gates left open, non-railway staff on the tracks, suspicious vehicles, fences removed and the like – while travelling on the West Coast Main Line and branch lines in the area, particularly between Crewe, Stoke and Stafford, please call the BTP.” 

Back in June, the BTP also issued an appeal after criminals attempted to steal cable from the railway line in the Worksop area. Cable was cut on two consecutive nights in locations near to Shireoaks station, an area that was targeted by cable thieves a few years ago. 

Recently the BTP also released its annual report and statistical bulletin for 2016-17, which made for interesting reading. With regards to theft of railway/commercial property, the force reported that the number of live cable thefts for the year stood at 85, down from the 117 reported in 2015-16. However, non-live cable theft remained pretty stable at 172 – it was 173 the year before. 

It is hoped that the industry efforts to tackle cable theft, which, at times, have included some eccentric prevention methods from covert cameras stashed away in harmless Coke cans to threatening livery and even flying drones, do not start to go backwards. The latest figures could be an anomaly and by the end of the year be even less than the previous 12 months, but it will definitely be worth keeping an eye on the situation.

TELL US WHAT YOU THINK

opinion@railtechnologymagazine.com

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