Police say they are winning the war on rail cable thefts
Police chiefs say they are now winning the war against railway cable thieves despite new figures that show an increase in thefts in East Anglia last year.
Commuters have endured severe delays and cancellations in recent years, caused by criminals stealing cable from rail lines before selling it on as scrap metal.
New figures, obtained by the EDP under the Freedom of Information (FOI) Act, show 314 offences were committed last year, compared to 286 thefts in the previous year, in the London North area which includes Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire.
The statistics from British Transport Police also show 54 thefts occurred on the Norwich-London main line in 2011-12, compared to 41 offences in 2010-11, as the value of scrap metal continues to increase.
But only a small number of cable thefts were committed in Norfolk and Suffolk, with 11 recorded crimes last year and only three the year before.
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British Transport Police (BTP) officials said a crackdown on rail crime and an operation to make it more difficult for thieves to sell stolen scrap metal was beginning to work.
Figures obtained under the FOI also show the number of arrests and charges being brought against suspected thieves rose from 96 in 2010-11 to 292 in London North in 2011-12.
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BTP Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther, who is chairman of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) metal theft working group, said: 'Every single metal theft is an attack in some form on our communities. When the target is the railway, the thieves are directly affecting the travelling public who use trains to go about their daily business and indirectly affecting businesses and services whose employees are delayed by the disruption.
'This has to stop and co-ordinated action, in tandem with larger-scale projects, will certainly have an impact.
'We are proud of the work being done to tackle metal theft and have seen significant reductions in offending during 2012, but there is still much more to be done.'
Cable theft costs the country an estimated �19m every year, according to Network Rail which maintains Britain's network of lines.
Operation Tornado, a scheme aimed at combating the increasing problem of metal theft, was introduced across the east of England in June. Spearheaded by ACPO, it aims to make it easier to trace sellers of stolen metal through an identification scheme. Those selling scrap metal to participating dealers in the region have to provide proof of their identity and address to deter thieves.
BTP with Network Rail, train companies and local police forces have been stepping up patrols in theft hotspots, using covert CCTV cameras along the tracks and forensic marking has been used to catch would-be offenders.
A BTP spokesman said more than 1,000 people in the UK were arrested in connection with railway-related metal theft last year.
He added: 'Metal theft has been a significant problem on the railway across the country during the past few years. Fortunately, Norfolk and Suffolk have not been massively impacted by this type of theft and, although we saw a small increase at the start of this year, the numbers are extremely low for an area of more than 3,540 square miles with an increase of just eight crimes.
'Of course, even this low number is too much, as cable theft has a major impact on commuters who are often left facing delays and cancellations when the criminals target cables which are vital to the running of the railway.'
A Network Rail spokesman said thieves were putting their lives at risk by stealing signalling cables, overhead power lines and metal fences.
'The theft of metal from the rail network is a growing problem. Britain's rail network is designed to fail safe, which means that when a cable is cut trains are brought to a stop. This protects passengers but can lead to lengthy, frustrating delays while the problem is found and fixed safely. A large proportion of our funding comes from public money, so these thefts are, ultimately, costing taxpayers.'
As it updates lines Network Rail is introducing cables which are harder to steal and easier to identify. The organisation also supports a Private Member's Bill introduced by Conservative MP Richard Ottaway to reform the scrap metal industry.
Anyone with information about metal theft from the rail network is asked to telephone 0800 405040 or Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555111.