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Metal fatigue hits thieves

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More legal powers and the success of Operation Tornado are making life tougher for cable thieves on the railway.

Operation Tornado makes it easier to trace sellers of stolen metal through an identification scheme. Pioneered in the north east, Operation Tornado is being rolled out in the south of England this summer. In further developments rail chiefs have welcomed a bill placed before the House of Commons by Richard Ottaway MP aimed at cracking down on the trade in stolen metal.

Says Michael Roberts, ceo ATOC, ‘The proposed powers (in the bill) will send a clear signal to criminals and rogue traders that dealing in stolen metal could lead to unlimited fines, removal of operating licences and even long terms in prison. Giving police and local councils the power to search and investigate scrap yards suspected of dealing in stolen metal, and if necessary close them down, will help stop metal theft in its tracks.’

BTP’s deputy chief constable, Paul Crowther, agrees. ‘Tornado is proving very successful so far. For instance, on the railways in the north east we have seen a 69% fall in metal theft. However, this needs to be sustainable in the long term and Tornado is impacting mainly on scrap dealers who are working within the law.

‘We still need the powers to close down those few unscrupulous dealers who operate outside the law. I welcome Richard Ottaway’s Private Member’s Bill….It is important we have a robust regulatory framework alongside police powers to impact effectively and permanently on this crime, which has blighted communities across Britain for too long.’

Under Operation Tornado anyone hoping to sell scrap metal to participating metal recyclers in the south of England and Wales will be required to provide proof of their identity, either a photo card driving licence including an address, or a passport or national ID card supported by a utility bill, which must be under three months old and show their address.

Thefts of cable on the rail system in BTP’s North Eastern Area since April this year are down 69% from 248, to 78. Almost half of these (38) involved live operational cable.


  1. .. And about time, too ! Copper wire theft causes major inconvenience to the travelling public, and costs huge amounts to replace and repair. The last straw is those who see fit to desecrate war memorials by stealing the metals bearing the names of those died to protect our country – is there no depth of depravity to which these thieves will not descend ? The sooner draconian powers are granted to those meting out justice, including locking up the thieves and closing the businesses of unscrupulous scrap dealers, the better.

  2. After resignalling on Gospel Oak – Barking, not only have old disused cables been left in place, but new cables have not been tied to cable trays or properly laid in new cable troughing runs which are then secured with chunky, difficult to remove clamps.
    As Secretary of the local RUG, I have complained to Atkins staff, the contract managers, Network Rail staff, where the seed always falls on stoney ground, local LOROL staff to ‘pass the message on’ and even BT Police, who again we contact through the RUG channels.

    Why has this work never been picked up by now some 3 years after the project was supposingly completed. Who should have done the snagging list, and who should have put it right? There were so many sub-contractors doing a bit of this and a bit of that, but clearly it was not properly managed, so NR as the ultimate managers are failed here.
    This is a Network Rail failure to ensure that the opportunities for theft are kept to a minimum; at the moment they do nt appear to be doing this, or ensuring their contractors clear up properly at the end of a job.

    • Ricpou, I think I know exactly who the right person is within Network Rail to escalate this to and they would get something done about this as that is the type of person they are however one is at Board Level and the alternative sits on the management team with responsibility for S&T and Maintenance. I agree with you, there was a report in the February edition of the rail engineer which highlighted cable theft cost Network rail £49bn over the last 3 years.
      I know Atkins and their Sub Contractors and the work took place I think between Jan and Jun 2009. There may be a valid reason for them not being put in the secure cable troughing just yet such as they are waiting for additional works or it may simply be that the Project Manager has moved on, no one has escalated it to Atkins, it’s not Atkins responsibility, it’s a subby and that subby may be avoiding it or gone out of business.
      I thank you for bringing this to our attention having read the article. If you can contact me off line on my work email at [email protected] or call me on 07846 863604 that way we can get and S&T team or a maintenance team out there sharpish and make sure it is fixed?
      Thank You
      Paul Curtis
      the rail engineer magazine and RailStaff Magazine are part of The Rail Media Group


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