Over the past five years, there has been more than 330 unique instances of metal theft reported on the UK rail network, causing major delays to passengers and freight services. Those delays led to 291,000 minutes lost to delays, at an estimated cost to the taxpayer of just under £16m.
To combat the problem, Network Rail is enlisting specially trained sniffer dogs to crack down on criminals who steal vital cables and materials from the railway and catch those illegally selling on the stolen materials.
A national operation is now underway to mark railway property with a permanent synthetic solution – only visible under special police torches – so that the metal can be found and identified after it goes missing.
The special SelectaDNA spray also has a unique scent which the dogs can detect, helping lead police directly to any stolen supplies illegally on sale at scrap metal dealers.
Andrea Graham, Head of Crime and Security for Network Rail’s North West and Central region, said: “Metal theft continues to cause huge problems for passengers and freight customers at a very significant cost to our business – which is of course funded by the taxpayer.
“We’re always looking at new ways to crack down on criminals and now we have man’s best friend on the case too. Our message to thieves who think they can steal from us is clear – we will find you and bring you to justice, because you’re not only putting your own life at risk by trespassing on the tracks, but also the lives of our passengers and staff.”
Superintendent Mark Cleland, British Transport Police National Lead for Metal Crime, said: “We’re working with partners across the entire country and throughout the metals recycling industry to target those who we suspect of flouting the law or operating outside of their licence.
“By taking a multi-agency approach, we are maximising our ability to identify those who are attacking our national infrastructure, making it harder for them to sell stolen metal and gain from their activities.
“We’re warning would-be offenders that we will take action against them and anyone involved in the theft and trade of metal from the railway will be brought to justice.”
Ronnie the sniffer dog during a demonstration of the new initiatives to counter metal thefts on the railway
A week of action is underway too, with surprise scrap dealer site visits taking place, in conjunction with the telecoms industry, to remind traders not to handle stolen metal and of their obligations under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013.