Weekend metal theft slammed by UK police and Network Rail

Network Rail has revealed that the vital West Coast Main Line has been targeted by thieves 28 times in the past twelve months, most recently over this weekend, disrupting critical freight services and putting key workers at risk.

A hard-hitting statement from the UK infrastructure agency Network Rail has condemned thieves for ripping out railway signalling cable once again on the West Coast Main Line. The latest incident happened between Alderley Edge and Crewe in Cheshire, north west England. This stretch of railway has been targeted 28 times in the last 12 months, says Network Rail. Two hundred metres of cable was also stolen further south, near Nuneaton in Warwickshire, in the past fortnight.

National crisis

The revelation comes just after British Transport Police, the specialist law enforcement constabulary, praised the public at large for abiding by the current lockdown (read here); and only a week after Network Rail launched an annual anti-trespass campaign (read here).

Network Rail staff and contractors working on cable replacement after weekend thefts left signalling compromised on parts of the West Coast Main Line (Network Rail)

Andrea Graham, special project manager for route crime at Network Rail, was appalled by the latest incident. “At a time of national crisis, it is despicable that criminals are targeting the railway which is vital to keep people and goods moving”, she said. “Network Rail is working around the clock to keep services running smoothly so key workers can keep food on the shelves, police the streets, keep essential utilities running, and get staff to and from hospitals to treat the seriously ill”.

Network Rail statement

This has jeopardised journeys for key workers like doctors and nurses, as well as disrupting freight trains carrying thousands of tonnes of food and products to supermarkets across the country, said Network Rail in a further statement. Engineers worked throughout the night on Saturday (28 March) to replace 300 metres of cabling ripped out of the signalling system between Alderley Edge and Crewe in Cheshire. This stretch of railway has been targeted 28 times in the last 12 months. “These complex repairs require railway workers to work side by side, making it impossible for them to be two metres apart and practice safe social distancing during the Covid-19 pandemic”, added Network Rail.

“The fact we have to then repair reckless damage caused by criminals trying to profit from the pandemic – putting our staff at risk from having to work so closely together, really beggars’ belief”, said Ms Graham. “We condemn these thefts and will use the full force of the law to come down hard on those responsible”.

Police tagging

Latest figures from Network Rail and police sources reveal that there have been more than 400 incidents of metal theft on the railway between London Euston and Carlisle in the 12 months to January 2020. Thieves, motivated by high metal commodity prices, are being warned that police have sophisticated ways to catch them, including metal marked with a variety of trackable tags.

Police have sophisticated tools, including night vision cameras, to help catch thieves (Paul Aldridge / BTP)

British Transport Police Chief inspector, Gary Jones, was scathing in his reaction to the latest incidents.“In these challenging and unprecedented times acts like this are appalling, particularly as the rail network plays a critical role in the distribution of essential supplies around the UK”, he said. “Offending to illegally obtain money by disrupting vital transport links shows a real disregard for the efforts of those who continue to work on the frontline, fighting this pandemic. It also puts lives at risk which could place further demand on the already stretched emergency services. Be assured that anyone who steals from the railway will face the strongest possible action”.

Anyone witnessing suspicious behaviour on or around the railway should report it to British Transport Police by calling 0800 40 50 40 or texting 61016.

Author: Simon Walton

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