Copper Theft Rises 67%, Causing Major Disruption to Britain's Railways

copper theft railways photo

Image credit: Sam_catch, used under Creative Commons license.

While Belgian trains get a boost from a massive 2-mile solar tunnel, the reality for British rail operators is a whole lot more mundane. It seems the country's railways are being hit by copper theft on an endemic scale, and it's beginning to be a major disruption to services. In fact, staff are noting a significant rise in incidents in just the last few weeks. But what's behind this epidemic?Tom Bawden over at The Guardian reports that British rail operator Network Rail is losing millions due to copper theft. The company has had to bring in extra staff and instigate additional night shifts in order to detect thieves and repair damage. The company is also losing out as it pays out compensation to train operators for delays caused by repairs. (Network Rail is the entity responsible for track management and maintenance.)

Network Rail staff say that the reported 67% increase may be a huge underestimation as they have seen a major surge in just the last few weeks. Experts say that a combination of an ongoing recession and rising metal prices are contributing to the situation:

"Economic hardship has been blamed for the rise in thefts but the soaring price of copper has made it more lucrative. Copper has tripled to about $9,000 (£5,486) a tonne in under three years as fast-growing emerging markets such as China demand more of the metal, which is used in wiring, to feed its construction boom."

This isn't, of course, the first time that we've seen theft of precious metals hitting green industry hard. Lloyd has posted on hurricane sirens stripped of their wiring, and Christine has lamented the theft of copper from wind-farms too. It's not just the physical theft that causes problems either. As John noted in his post on meth heads going for recycling, new legislation designed to deter "theft cycling" of metals was threatening to hurt genuine recyclers too due to increased red tape.

More on Metal Theft
Copper Thieves Finally on FBI Radar
Where Are Their Scruples? Wind-Farm Stripped of Wiring
Meth Heads Going for Recycling

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