Copper costs cause increase in railway cable theft

30 January 2012

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30 January 2012 | Adam Leach

High copper prices have prompted an increase in thefts of wire from train lines, resulting in significant costs to Network Rail and delays to rail freight operators.

Cable theft on the railway, published by the Transport Committee on Thursday, reports that during 2010/11 theft of copper cables on the UK railway network forced delays to more than 35,000 rail services and cost Network Rail £16 million. The report concluded that the rate of thefts was linked to the rise in value of the metal over recent years.

Despite recent economic turbulence around the world, the price of copper has remained at elevated levels and is expected to continue at around $5,500 per tonne (£3,500) over 2012. From 2009 to now, high demand has pushed copper prices from around $3,500 per tonne (£2,231) to $8,500 per tonne (£5,420) at their highest point.

The report said: “Cable theft is a market-driven crime. The evidence we received shows that the frequency of cable theft has increased to match the demand for copper on the global commodity markets.”

It is estimated that cable theft directly caused 110,000 minutes of delays to the UK rail freight industry. Evidence to the committee from The Rail Freight Group said: “For rail freight operators, delay leads to additional costs, for example in staff costs, fuel costs and performance penalties to customers. Customers also incur costs, for example, if they need to keep terminals open to receive late running trains, or in inventory management. Forward distribution may also be delayed, impacting on road hauliers and throughout the supply chain.”

In response to the theft of copper from the railways, the committee has called on the government to give the police greater powers to inspect scrap metal dealers – they are currently only able to inspect registered yards. The committee said: “We recommend that the government amends the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 and introduces measures to improve the audit trail for metal purchases by requiring that sellers prove their identity before metal is traded.”

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