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MPs call for urgent action in report on cable theft on the rail network

26 January 2012

MPs have called on the Government to reform regulation of the scrap metal industry as part of wider measures to tackle the increase in metal theft. 

In a report of an inquiry that examined cable theft on the railway [Fourteenth Report of Session 2010–12, Cable theft on the railway (HC 1609)], the Transport Committee identifies scrap metal dealers as the weak link in efforts to combat this crime and highlights the need for legislative reform.

Launching the report Louise Ellman, Transport Committee Chair, said:

"Cable theft on the railway must be tackled with more urgency. Last year over 35,000 journeys were delayed or cancelled due to this crime which also cost Network Rail more than £16m.

Cable theft from the rail network is part of an increase in metal theft across the country made easy by the way in which stolen metal can be sold to scrap metal dealers.

Current legislation for regulating scrap metal dealers is out of date. We need urgent reform to improve the audit trail generated by the scrap metal industry so that criminals selling stolen metal into the trade can be identified much more easily."

The Committee calls for additional powers for the police to help them in their efforts to combat metal theft, Louise Ellman adds:

"The Government should introduce a new offence of aggravated trespass on the railway to help deter cable thieves. The British Transport Police should be given new powers so that officers can enter both registered and unregistered scrap metal sites along with additional resources to carry out their enforcement work".

The Committee also recommends:

  • The Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 should be reformed so that individuals selling metal have to provide proof of their identity before a transaction can take place.
  • The Government should test the use of cashless trading in the scrap metal industry.
  • There should be greater clarity around compensation arrangements so that train operators cannot profit from disruption caused by cable theft.
  • Network Rail should develop a costed programme of measures to make cable more difficult to steal.
  • The Department for Transport should update the Committee on work being undertaken to help passengers stranded on trains near stations to complete their journey.

Further information

Incidents of cable theft have been increasing in frequency since at least 2004.  This type of crime has also spread out from hotspots in the north east across much of the country.

In 2010/11 cable theft caused the delay or cancellation of over 35,000 national rail services (causing over 365,000 minutes of delay) and cost Network Rail over £16 million.

Network Rail is already in breach of its licensing conditions due to poor and deteriorating performance and punctuality. Improvements in punctuality are likely to require effective action to tackle the problem of cable theft.