Thieves derail train services

SCRAP metal thieves stripping copper signalling wire from the Casino to Grafton railway line are crippling the network and creating havoc for rail authorities.

Australian Rail Track Corporation (ARC) chief executive David Marchant reported a spate of copper wire thefts in recent weeks and warned thieves the consequences could be far worse than hefty fines or jail sentences.

“There is no leniency when it comes to theft on the rail corridor; not from the courts, but more importantly, not from a freight train travelling at 80km/h,” he said.

Mr Marchant said the system had a built-in fail safe which immediately signalled trains to stop when lines were cut. But the thefts still caused expensive delays to freight and commuter trains, he said.

Repair crews have to attend to fix the severed lines before services can resume.

“The bottom line is if you are caught by police trespassing on the rail corridor you face severe fines. If you are caught interfering with or stealing rail infrastructure you face jail time. If you are caught by a freight train you face much stiffer penalties,” Mr Marchant said.

Copper theft has been on the rise in the past decade as scrap prices have risen from about $2 a kilogram to nearly $10 at scrap metal merchants. Analysts say the surge is being driven by the growing demand for copper in India and China.

It now sits at around $6 a kilogram since the global financial crisis.

Thieves have been stealing the valuable metal from buildings, building sites, air-conditioners and electrical and communication systems, often at great risk to themselves.

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