Rail metal theft triples and costs £1m a year in Wales
Network Rail and police are stepping up their efforts to catch rail metal thieves in Wales, claiming they are costing the railways around £1m a year.
The number of cable thefts on the Wales and the Marches network tripled from 28 in 2009/10 to 84 in 2010/11.
Some 600 hours of train delays in the region are attributed to the loss of cables controlling signals and points.
Mark Langman, route director for Network Rail, said they were serious criminal acts and had to stop.
"Every day passengers and essential freight deliveries upon which our economy relies on are being delayed by thieves looking to make a quick buck at our expense," he said.
Metal theft has been identified as a growing problem in Wales in recent years, with brass band instruments, manhole covers and public sculptures being targeted along with railway lines.
Network Rail believes that thieves are targeting its cables because of the rising value of high-quality copper.
British Transport Police has set up a dedicated task force with increased patrols, working in partnership with the Serious Organised Crime Agency, Network Rail and other interested bodies.
Assistant Chief Constable Alan Pacey said: "We are working to tackle the issue and in the past few months have seen significant jail sentences handed down to cable thieves put before the courts.
"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."
Protection for railway sites has been increased, including helicopter surveillance, CCTV, forensic marking and alarms.
A new type of cable has also been introduced which is said to be easier to identify and harder to steal.
Gary Cooper, head of operations at the Association of Train Operating Companies, said the thefts were resulting in major disruption of services.
"Operators and the industry as a whole are determined to crack down on the thieves, whose actions lead to extra work for staff and cost millions of pounds, money which could otherwise be invested in improving services for passengers.
"The thieves are also putting themselves at risk of serious injury."
Anyone with any information about cable theft is urged to contact British Transport Police or the independent charity Crimestoppers anonymously.