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Railways: Theft

House of Lords written question – answered on 20th July 2011.

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Photo of Lord Berkeley Lord Berkeley Labour

To ask Her Majesty's Government by how much theft of railway cable has increased in the past six years; what effect this has had on the safety, performance and costs of the railway; and what action they will take to strengthen the legislative basis for dealing with the problem.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Lords Spokesperson (Department for Transport), Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Officials from the Department for Transport met recently with Home Office officials to discuss the issue of metal theft and to explore possible options to combat this crime, which affects not just the railways but also the power supply industry, churches and other historic buildings.

Metal theft including cable theft has emerged as one of the fastest growing crime types. It hits the railway particularly hard and causes levels of disruption out of all proportion to the value of the material stolen. The increase in cable theft has mirrored the soaring price of copper on world markets. The Deputy Chief Constable for the British Transport Police (BTP), who is also the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) lead for metal thefts, has described the thefts as one of the force's biggest challenges after terrorism. ACPO in conjunction with the Home Office have devised a national four element strategy which focuses on:

increasing the effort required to steal metal;increasing the risk to offenders;reducing the ease and rewards to offenders stealing stolen metal; andincreasing the risk for the dealers handling stolen metals.

BTP has a number of dedicated pro-active cable crime teams operating in areas of the country that suffer from cable theft. This year, with the support of Network Rail, BTP is deploying even more officers and crime scene investigators to problem locations. BTP continues to work closely with train operators, other police forces, the scrap metal industry and others with an interest to eradicate the problem. Methods used to deter and catch the thieves include a dedicated BTP task force with increased patrols, intelligence led policing and additional dedicated officers; the use of the Network Rail helicopter, CCTV, forensic marking, trembler alarms and other devices to protect the cable; the introduction of new type of cable that is easier to identify and harder to steal; and fast response teams to get trains on the move as quickly as possible following an incident.

Information relating to cost of replacement cables and disruption to services is not held by the Department for Transport but by Network Rail. The national figures for cable theft (May 2011) are detailed below:

Financial Year No. of incidents" Delay minutes1 Compensation cost* Total Cost**
2010-11 995 365,265 £12,137,220 £16,510,663
2009-10 656 321,570 £10,931,350 £13,961,998
2008-09 742 283,167 £7,858,516 £12,264,682
Total 2,393 970,002 £30,927,086 £42,737,343

Hours Delay





" Number of incidents which caused delay to the operational network. It does not include thefts from depots, engineering sites or redundant cable.

1 Delay minutes show the inconvenience experienced by the passenger and vary with each incident. If the theft is on a busy mainline then they rack up much quicker than on quieter suburban lines. Delay per incident is decreasing as Network Rail teams become more efficient at locating and fixing the problem.

* Compensation costs (known as schedule 8 costs) are paid to train and freight operators for the disruption caused by the delay. This is a substantial part of the cost to the industry of cable theft but does not include the cost of staff time to repair and replace the cable, replacement cable itself and the cost of mitigation measures such as security patrols and investment in new technology. The amount of compensation paid depends on the type of services delayed.

** Total Cost comprises schedule 8 (compensation to train operators), as well as the average cost of replacement cable; average maintenance cost of attending to the fault and average opportunity cost of diverting this labour from elsewhere.

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