TRANSPORT chiefs are calling for tougher powers to tackle metal thieves after raids on Metro lines cost the taxpayer almost £300,000.
Passengers on the Sunderland Metro line have faced hours of misery in a series of delays caused by thieves stealing essential equipment from the train system.
Now Tyne and Wear transport executive Nexus has set up a task force to take on the problem and is pushing for changes to the law which would make it harder for the thieves.
Ken Mackay, director of rail and infrastructure at Nexus, said: “We have acted with the police and Network Rail to improve security.
“However, metal theft is clearly a problem which is not going to go away without a serious look at how the scrap metal industry is regulated.”
Mr Mackay said metal theft is a widespread problem in the North East and has grown significantly as a crime in recent years thanks to a rise in metal prices on world markets.
There have been 18 incidents of metal theft from the Metro and Network Rail infrastructure since the beginning of April – a big leap from last year, where there were 13 in total for the full 12 months.
The stretch of the Sunderland line running through the Boldon area is one of the theft black spots.
Mr Mackay said in some cases the equipment taken was of “negligible value” and damage was caused to the system, but thieves had taken nothing, or equipment was abandoned after being removed.
Nexus is working with other agencies nationwide to push for the Government to introduce new laws and regulations on scrap metal dealing to help keep thieves at bay.
Mr Mackay said: “Since June, Nexus has pursued an action plan to reduce the impact of this problem and has seen a reduction in the number of attacks.”
The high-level task group set up by Nexus is looking at working better with police to improve protection of equipment, including CCTV and security marking.
The group is also looking at other rail operators in Europe to look at what innovations they are using to tackle the problem, and reviewing how thefts are dealt with in terms of getting trains back on track more quickly.
Nexus and other organisations on a national metal theft working group have come up with a lobbying strategy gunning to change laws and regulations with the following aims.
* A licensing regime for scrap dealers rather than the existing registration scheme requiring traders to reduce the risk that stolen materials are purchased or received.
* Scrap metal dealers should pay a licence fee which would be used to better-fund councils to regulate licences.
* Property obtained by breaching the legislation should be regarded as criminal assets;
* Police should have powers to close scrap metal dealers.
* Scrap metals should not be traded in for cash so payments can be traced and requirements put in place so scrap metal must be held for a certain period before being sold.