back to article Copper prices push cable thefts to new high

Network Rail is suffering its highest ever levels of copper theft - mostly signalling cables running alongside tracks. The thefts have waxed and waned with the price of copper but thieves have swiped £35m worth of copper from Network Rail since 2006. The company warns thefts could total £20m a year by 2014 if nothing is done. …

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Pint

Make them all live

Make all the cables live!

or... have a HST ready at the next points, when the alarm is raised the train rushes out and runs the pikeys over!

Don't forget the snow plough attachment!

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Flame

Bastard!

I was gonna say that, instead of the cable shield being earthed, run 500v@20A AC through it, that ought to put off any would be thieves. Or cook them bolt cutters in hand, right where they stand, either way...

I visited the states for 6 weeks a few years ago, a lot of travelling, good fun though. Anyway, on the way home, I got from LAX to JFK to Heathrow without issue, tube link to train, no problem. I get 20 miles from home, and I'm stuck on a train for FOUR FUCKING HOURS because some thieving pikey f**kbag has carted off the signal cabling at chesterfield.

Seriously, instead of putting the national grid up large pylons, run it down the outside of train signal cables, it follows roughly the same route anyway, at least some of it. 44KV, steal the effing cable now...

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Silver badge

Easy.

They just need to stand on a highly insulated box and make the cut when it isn't raining. Now they're no longer earthed, and they won't conduct the current so long as they only make single-point approaches to the goods.

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do they really think

That swapping out the cable material, in the short term, will stop the thefts? People dig up fibre optic cables "for the copper" and then just discard them when they realise.

Now if almost all cables were known to be fibre optic...

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think - no they don't

In the dark, which is their normal MO, they don't see it's blue and has "Fibre optic" printed on the sleeve, so they still rip it out.

Trouble is you can't bury it in the ballast, or it'll be PW crew who'll stick something into it.

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@ Refugee from Windows

>> Trouble is you can't bury it in the ballast, or it'll be PW crew who'll stick something into it.

A while ago I was at a talk on rail engineering projects, and the guy giving it did mention this problem. Of course, it's impractical to "secure the perimeter", and in some troublespots they actually have taken to burying the ducts - under the middle of the track, a full metre down ! I guess it's that depth to put it out of reach of the ballast machines, and being actually under the track, it's not somewhere you can easily dig down to either.

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Silver badge

Signalling

Not being funny but if it's for signalling, why do you need copper at all?

Power distribution, yes, but for signalling and low-voltage stuff surely you don't need that huge amount of power? And the power distribution is mainly coming from the tracks themselves surely? (A signal that isn't powered from the track would seem a bit of a waste of infrastructure - if the track power is down, the signals on that section are useless and should go into "fail" mode anyway, which is presumably battery-backed so other trains behind have to stop?)

What sort of signals are you operating that can't be powered from the track (and therefore only need a tiny bit of copper to get power, as opposed to km's of the stuff), can't be self-powered and/or can't get their actual "signal" from something that's not copper (fibre would have to be specially hardened, radio is probably licensed and unreliable, but hell, they were using the track itself to send some data signals last I heard).

I can never believe the sheer amount of cabling on the side of the average rail line and don't understand why it's necessary to have the equivalent of several dozen thick cables following the entire length of a single track, and why it's all "visible". The major roads don't have that much a problem and they have to take electricity and signalling down the same distances. What makes the railways so unique that they are being targeted for something they can't replace with anything else?

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Headmaster

Point Failure

The railways aren't like trainsets - the running lines themselves aren't electrified. Power is supplied either through overhead lines in the case of the West Coast Mainline (WCML) and East Coast Mainline (ECML) or through a third rail in the case of many suburban lines, especially around South London. In any case you can't electrify the main running rails due to the fact they have vehicles with metal wheels and axles running on them, causing short circuits. Why not remove the shorts by insulating the axles? Well, modern signalling uses defined sections of track for containing trains and in order to indicate whether a section is occupied a small current is passed through the rails (not enough to harm or power equipment) and when the train passes over that section a circuit is created and a light turns on in the signaller's console.

Signals and motorised points (or "switches" if you're American) require quite a bit of power to operate.

The railways are very old, cover 12k miles and the infrastructure lasts a long time and costs a lot of money. Replacing all that legacy cable with fibre is going to take a long time and a lot of money.

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Unhappy

The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

Additionally there are significant parts of the network that aren't electrified, so while a good plan, it's just not feasible I suspect. :(

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RE: Signaling

Diesel trains.

If there is a route which is only partially electrified, then there is the possibility a diesel, or even steam, train will run on that section of track. Even if passenger trains can't run because they're electrified there might be maintenance trains or freight trains.

So tying signalling power into the train power may cause problems.

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Do we need any more justification...

Do we need any more justification for a national fibre network? Let's free ourselves from reliance on overpriced nickable copper and replace it with cheap glass.

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Silver badge
FAIL

Problem with that

Unless you use very, very thick fibre optics and have all the bulbs at the far end, you still need a fair amount of power to light the signal lamps and (in some cases; not sure if any of these signals are still in use) turn the motor which changes the filters. Which means you still need copper. Using LEDs instead of filament bulbs (subject to regulatory approval) would mean you'd need a bit less power, but you still need it.

Anyway, for some people, it would be enough just to know they had disrupted the trains.

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Grenade

Re: Make them all live

Mightn't be such a bad idea to run a few kV DC along them with a very low current available. It shouldn't get in the way of signalling (so long as the equipment is suitably isolated from ground) and would just give anyone going near it a nasty thwack without any real damage done.

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Charge anyone caught

with attempted murder of train passengers.

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Stop

Probably won't wash...

....as railway signalling systems are designed to fail safe in such conditions. The probable result will be red signals for everyone.

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Silver badge

Who are they selling them to?

Just make it more worthwhile for scrap metal dealers to grass them up than melt the copper.

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Pint

Copper Theft...

...here in Las Vegas reached epic levels, with miscreants attaching a truck to street lights and pulling out a mile or so of power cable, and climbing phone poles to saw out sections of 400-pair.

I talked to some phone guys who told me they worked full-time replacing missing segments, the cost of labor for all that splicing higher than the price of new cable.

Another target was the condensor coils of outdoor unit of heat pumps.

It took local police a few years to get a handle on the problem, requiring photo ID from anyone selling scrap, and running sting operations to bust scrap dealers that didn't.

The funniest theft in my recollection was a kid in Long Island the stole a shiny new helicopter airframe and skin from outside a factory, then whined when the scrap dealer became suspicious and called the law.

Beer is brewed in copper tanks, and the price of a 12 X 12 oz pack of 211 just jumped $1. Coincidence?

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Big Brother

Where are the police?

So if you take a photo of Nelson's column because it's there, you're arrested for terrorism. But if you knock out the rail signalling infrastructure in time for the rush hour, you're merely some kind of scally at large?

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Long term solution

A longer term solution to stupidly high priced copper is to re-open the tens (if not hundreds) of disused copper mines in the UK, that are all pretty much still viable, and dig it out ourselves, rather than pay some Chileans to dig it out and ship it here. There's millions of years worth of copper right under our feet.

This would provide thousands of jobs, lower the price of copper and as a by product for the pikeys to go back to mobiles, laptops and GPS units for a better profit.

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Time to fry

Can't they just electrify the cable with a non-lethal charge?

It'l deter people more than asking nicely

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Grenade

Here in Orlando too

They've been stealing lots of A/C units for the copper, and since it's obviously an area with lots of A/C units...

The local scrapyards are all "wot? so someone brought in an entire 5ton brand-new A/C unit recently ripped out of the ground, we didn't think that was suspicious!" and some of them are being tossed in the klink as well, as the units have stolen serial numbers on them. New units without serial numbers? j00 get klink too!

They wrote new laws that the junk seller has to leave a name/addr/license and lots of scrap dealers are whining "oh! that'll put us out of business! lots of our customers don't have permanent addresses or drivers' licenses!"

Seriously. The county and local paper even had the sense to tell them STFU.

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bad

I get delayed by a couple of hours a month because of this (or some sod topping themselves on the line at Oxford - it's a depressing place), so I'm not surprised at all. I always assumed replacing it all with fibre would be expensive, but maybe it would be cheaper than £20m a year.

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California

California took it one step further. When you recycle copper they make your show ID and wait a week to get paid.

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Silver badge
Unhappy

It's happening in VietNam, too

The Vietnamese, being very clever with their hands and minds, have taken this theft even further.

Our many islands are connected to the mainland by numerous under water cables. The fishermen simply go bottom trawling, snagging cables as they go.

Unfortunately being technically illiterate, they also scoop up fibre-optic InterNet cables.

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Flame

Early power up

I understand that it's standard practice when constructing electrified lines to energise them at the first opportunity as a (lethal) deterrent to metal thieves.

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Anonymous Coward

And where are...?

All the cameras, and the police...

Speeding is a lot worse crime than someone whipping out the control function of the train system...Priorities...Assholes.

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N

The government needs to treat pikies with the anti-terror laws.

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Thumb Down

Anti-terror laws?

Christ no! Those insidious, nasty, Big Brother powers have spread quite far enough. If someone is committing a crime, prosecute them for that crime, not under some catch-all wank made up on the spot to give the legislature a stiffie and make police senior officers' lives easier.

GJC

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Alert

Woohoo!

So this is a problem in first world countries too?

My third-world, SWC-hosting country is clearly in good company :-)

We've had people killed here often, trying to get the powered overhead lines for the trains, and high-tension cables. The poor firemen have to come remove the charred bodies every once in a while.

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