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Rail passenger and freight delay caused by cable theft halved

Monday 15 Apr 2013


- Delay minutes down 54%
- Number of cable thefts affecting rail services down 67%
- Total cost to industry reached three-year low; down more than £5m

Rail passengers are reaping the benefits of years of work to tackle the issue of metal theft on the railway, latest industry figures show. Network Rail has been working with partners in the railway and from other essential infrastructure industries to tackle this crime which, at its peak, caused more than 6,000 hours worth of delays to trains in a single year. As a result of these efforts, delay was down to a combined 2,700 hours in 2012/13.

Neil Henry, head of operations and performance at Network Rail, said: “These figures show the true success of partnership working and are great news for passengers and our freight customers.

“The improvements we have seen are down to a number of factors, including British Transport Police targeting thieves and the scrap dealers buying stolen metal. Our engineers are working with suppliers and other industries to make metal – particularly our cables – harder to steal and easier to identify and our teams around the network introducing new ways of working to reduce delay and fix thefts more quickly. We believe the introduction of new laws following our work with other industries to explain the need for change to government will continue to help to stifle the market for stolen metal.

“I want to thank everyone who has been involved in securing this success, including members of the public who have reported suspicious behaviour to police. We are not complacent that this issue is solved and we will continue to work to further reduce cost and delay caused by thieves on our railway.”

Rail minister Norman Baker said: “The coalition Government is strongly committed to tackling metal theft and it is heartening to see that the decisive action that has been taken is now paying off with major reductions in this kind of crime. Government intervention in this area has included £5m of funding for a task force to crackdown on metal and cable thieves along with the introduction of a ban on cash payments by scrap metal dealers, significantly increasing the fines for all offences under the existing Scrap Metal Dealers Act and providing police officers with sufficient powers of entry to tackle illegal trading in metal yards.”

Speaking about the figures released today, Detective Chief Inspector Gill Murray, of British Transport Police, said: “The significant reductions during the past 12 months are encouraging and are testament to the work done by police and partner agencies to increase the risk of detection and prosecution to offenders, whilst also reducing the potential rewards for their criminal behaviour.

“We cannot, however, take our eye off the ball and will continue to develop initiatives and tactics to make life even more challenging for thieves and unscrupulous metal recyclers.

“Tackling metal theft in an effective manner is now embedded across police forces and within several industries and, with new legislation due to come into force later this year, there can be no doubt that the UK remains committed to tackling a crime which strikes at the very heart of its infrastructure.”

Gary Cooper, director of operations and engineering at the Association of Train Operating Companies, added: “Rail users are starting to benefit from the industry’s joint and determined crackdown on cable theft. The Scrap Metal Dealers Act is now law, which is excellent progress in the fight against cable thieves, whose actions can cause disruption for thousands of our customers.

“The new law will help break the trade in stolen metal, but the industry and police must continue to work together to make metal harder to steal and sell on. Train companies are committed to doing all they can to reduce disruption and costs even further.”

Notes to editors

Please see attachment for detailed figures

Note: total cost figures are an estimate and a regional break down of this figure is not available.

Financial Year

No. of incidents^

Delay minutes1

Compensation cost*

Total Cost**




£5, 823, 094

£12,765, 935




£12, 000, 679




365, 430

£12, 132, 860

£16,404, 255



321, 570

£10, 931, 350

£13,511, 889



283, 167

£7, 858, 516



It is already illegal to sell scrap metal for cash – this legislation was introduced in December 2012.

Network Rail supported the Private Member's Bill introduced by Richard Ottaway MP to regulate scrap metal dealers. The Bill was passed in February 2013 and the act will become enforceable as the Scrap Metal Dealer's Act in autumn 2013.

The Home Office is issuing guidance to councils, police, the legal services and all those involved with the implementation of the Act, the key features of which are:

• Scrap metal dealers must be licensed and local authorities have the power to refuse unsuitable applicants and revoke licences

• Police have the power by court order to close unlicensed scrap yards

• All sellers of metal must show verifiable ID which dealers must record and retain

• Cash trades for scrap metal are now illegal without exception and subject to unlimited fines

• A public national register of scrap metal dealers will be created to help make sure that sales of scrap metal are accounted for and that all people trading scrap are doing so legitimately.

Contact information

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Network Rail owns, manages and develops Britain’s railway – the 20,000 miles of track, 40,000 bridges and viaducts, and the thousands of signals, level crossings and stations (the largest of which we also run). In partnership with train operators we help people take more than 1.6bn journeys by rail every year - double the number of 1996 - and move hundreds of millions of tonnes of freight, saving almost 8m lorry journeys. We’re investing £38bn in the railway by 2019 to deliver more frequent, more reliable, safer services and brighter and better stations.

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