RAIL bosses in the North East are calling for tighter laws to tackle metal thefts on Sunderland’s lines.
Network Rail, which operates the region’s railways, says it supports calls for a complete overhaul of scrap legislation to stem the tide of cable theft.
Despite a drop in railway crimes in the area, the company says the disruption to passengers caused by cable thieves is increasing.
Sunderland to London commuters were delayed by more than two-and-a-half days between May 2010 and April 2011 after cable thieves caused Grand Central trains to grind to a halt for 4,048 minutes.
Figures released by Network Rail reveal that, in the last three years, thieves in the region have caused delays of more than 1,000 hours.
Offences for 2011/12 are down 37 per cent to 95 incidents from 153 the previous year.
However, delays to passengers and compensation costs rose from £475,000 to £689,000, an increase of 45 per cent, because the thefts have spread to busier and more complex parts of the network, making damage longer and more expensive to fix.
Phil Verster, route managing director for Network Rail’s London North Eastern route, said: “It is encouraging to see that the hard work of hundreds of people is having an effect in stemming the tide of crimes affecting rail services.
“However, metal theft continues to cost the railway and the economy millions of pounds through missed appointments and delayed freight deliveries. This is unacceptable and it is clear that significant changes to the law are the only way to significantly reduce this problem.”
The Government has already indicated that cash transactions for scrap will be outlawed.
But Network Rail is calling for a full reform of the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act, to include a full licensing scheme; powers to magistrates to enforce the closure of yards that fail to keep to the law; police powers to enter, inspect and if necessary close scrap dealers; a requirement for scrap metal dealers to have proof of identity and to keep adequate records about their customers and extra measures to impound the vehicles of metal dealers breaking the law.
Terry Nicholson, area commander for British Transport Police in the North East, said: “Our region accounts for 42 per cent of the country’s rail cable theft.
“We will continue to take firm action against anyone who commits this crime and threatens the running of the railway.”
Between March and November 2011, Nexus spent more than £300,000 mending damage caused by cable thieves.