SUNDERLAND to London commuters have been delayed by more than two-and-a-half days in the past year due to cable thieves.
Between May 2010 and April 2011, the vandals caused Grand Central trains – which link Wearside with the capital – to grind to a halt for 4,048 minutes.
In one week last month, passengers had their journeys disrupted when cables between Eaglescliffe and Northallerton were targeted twice.
“Cable theft is particularly disruptive here because there are a number of automatic level crossings on the route,” said a Grand Central spokesman.
“Trains cannot run over these until they have been manned to ensure the safety of road, as well as railway, users.”
Figures released by Network Rail also reveal that in the last three years, cable thieves across the region have caused delays of more than 1,000 hours, with attacks on North East lines rising by 48 per cent in April, compared with April 2010.
Thieves targeting the railway for metal to sell as scrap have cost the railway industry more than £1.5million in compensation costs since 2008.
National figures reveal the region is a hotspot for the thefts, with criminals targeting the cables that control vital rail infrastructure, including signals and points, causing delays to tens of thousands of trains and millions of people.
Rail bosses and police today urged them to slam the brakes on the thefts and stop risking their lives.
“These criminal acts have to stop,” said Richard Lungmuss, route director for Network Rail.
“Every day passengers and essential freight deliveries upon which our economy relies are being delayed by thieves looking to make a quick buck at our expense.
“Since the start of the new financial year we have had a further 25 attacks in the North East, causing more than 115 hours delay and costing a further £240,000.
“I cannot over-emphasise just how serious these crimes are.
“Cable thieves deny passengers the service they rightly expect and, through the massive cost to the industry, deny everyone improvements to rail services.”
Rail bosses have teamed up with British Transport Police (BTP) to help patrol the trains and railways and help catch the thieves that plague the network.
Detective Chief Inspector Derek O’Mara said: “We are determined to send a clear message that such attacks on our critical infrastructure are unacceptable, and the police and rail industry are working together to tackle the problem.”
Richard Allan, Northern Rail area director, said: “Cable theft is an extremely dangerous crime and is one of the single biggest causes of delay to our services, resulting in disruption to thousands of our customers.”
Anyone with information about cable theft should phone BTP on 0800 405040, or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.