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Thursday, 17 April 2014

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Northern Rail warns over metal thefts threat to economy

A rail firm that operates key services in Cumbria fears the explosion in metal thefts will continue to hit economies in northern England.

Northern Rail bosses made their warning in written evidence to a Commons transport select committee which condemned outdated "Steptoe and Son" scrap yard laws dating from 1964.

And MPs called for police to be handed new powers to search and shut down rogue scrap dealers blamed for fuelling the rise in metal thefts from railways.

Written evidence submitted to the committee by Northern Rail, which runs the Cumbrian coastline services and the link between Carlisle and Newcastle, showed that there were 425 incidents of cable theft or vandalism last year – up 10 per cent on the previous 12 months. It resulted in 1,346 trains being cancelled and 5,307 trains being delayed.

Its evidence said: “The theft of copper cable is a serious and growing problem for the railway in the north of England.

“Driven largely by the increasing price of copper on world markets, levels of this crime have increased over the last six years and this is now one of our main challenges to delivering robust and reliable services for our customers.

“We will continue to work with our industry colleagues to combat this crime but without tackling the demand side of this market, it is likely that cable theft will continue to have a devastating impact on our customers, our business and the economy in the north of England.”

Ministers are already poised to ban scrap dealers from making cash payments, to try to curb the trade in stolen metal – despite fears that thieves will turn to unlicensed yards instead.

Committee chairman Louise Ellman said: “Cable theft on the railway must be tackled with more urgency.”

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