Cable theft in South Yorkshire endangers freight and passenger operations

The UK infrastructure agency Network rail has issued a stark warning over the level of theft in the South Yorkshire area of England. While theft from the railway is as old as the railways themselves, Network Rail collaborates with the dedicated law agency British Transport Police to make thieving hard and getting away with it even harder still.

Last year, criminals in South Yorkshire cost British taxpayers around 280,000 pounds (330,000 euro), and its a figure they are determined will not be repeated. Delays directly attributed to criminal activity was around 89 hours, affecting passenger and freight operations. A drive to tackle the problem includes new surveillance techniques aimed at catching the criminals in the act, and encouraging the justice system to have offenders face court and hand out large fines.

Unlimited fines

Network Rail and the British Transport Police (BTP) are cracking down on metal cable thieves in South Yorkshire after responding to daily offences in April. The theft of signalling cables, electric wires and metal equipment – particularly from areas around the major cities of Rotherham and Sheffield has cost Network Rail over 280,000 pounds since April 2021 – a cost ultimately paid by taxpayers because of NR’s status as an agency of the UK government.

The good guys from Network Rail and British Transport Police (Network Rail)

“When a cable is cut, trains are brought to a standstill, which leads to frustrating delays that have a knock-on effect across the network”, said a statement from NR. The number of offences has risen as the price of copper increases, with incidents being reported daily in the first week of April. However disposal of stolen metal is difficult, with cash trading illegal and subject to unlimited fines.

Crime time running out

Network Rail and the BTP are stepping up their proactive patrols and using real time surveillance techniques to monitor hotspot areas. “The impact of railway cable theft mustn’t be underestimated”, said Olga Barannikova, Area Customer Services and Performance Manager for Network Rail. “It holds up the delivery of important freight supplies, makes passengers late, and takes key railway staff away from their work. I know that this new push with the BTP will help us to hammer home that criminal behaviour – trespass, vandalism and theft – will not be tolerated on Britain’s railway.”

High performance and high profile too. British Transport Police ready to respond very rapidly indeed (Network Rail image)

“The theft of cable from the railway is far from a victimless crime”, said officer Darren Martin from British Transport Police’s disruption team. “It costs the rail industry millions of pounds each year, causing delays and increases in costs to projects. Ultimately it is the tax payer who forks out. Just like ourselves and Network Rail, the courts also take the theft of cable extremely seriously and we will do all we can to bring those responsible to justice. We continue to work with Network Rail to modernise and enhance our resources to catch cable thieves. I would assure those responsible for the recent spate of cable thefts in south Yorkshire that it is only a matter of time before they are caught.”

Author: Simon Walton

Simon Walton is RailFreight's UK correspondent.

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