Rail chiefs demanded a crackdown on copper thieves today after tens of thousands of commuters suffered travel chaos.
Criminals stole copper signalling cable at London Bridge overnight. Southern Rail and First Capital Connect had to cancel and divert trains, with long delays getting into the capital.
Thousands coming from Sussex suffered after a second cable theft at Littlehampton.
FCC, which runs Thameslink, and Southern were running a reduced timetable and some trains were not stopping at London Bridge. Repairs were taking place today but were set to disrupt services home.
The thefts are the latest in a series to hit the industry, and Network Rail is demanding a change in the law dealing with them. It wants much harsher penalties, including long jail terms, and it is calling for those who buy the stolen cable to be targeted, as well as the thieves themselves. Robin Gisby, Network Rail managing director of network operations, said: "Yet again mindless thieves have caused disruption for thousands of commuters. Cable theft has cost the rail industry more than £40 million over the last three years, which is money we would otherwise spend on our network.
"The cost of this crime is likely to run well into hundreds of thousands of pounds. "This is a huge issue and one which all affected industries are committed to tackling — but we can't do it alone. We need to see tougher sentences in the courts and the police must be given the powers they need to shut down the rogue scrap dealers who are profiting from the travelling public's misery." NR says some current penalties can be as little as "a slap on the wrist". It is touring courts to persuade magistrates of the seriousness of the offences. During last night's theft, heavy 48-core and 37-core copper cabling was stolen over a 50-metre length. Today engineers were reconnecting each individual strand — but each must be tested before signalling can be restored safely for tonight's rush hour.
Last month, cable thief Simon Scott, 43, of Basildon, was sentenced to six months for going equipped to steal from a rail line. Southend magistrates found him guilty after hearing how he was stopped by police on cable theft patrol near Ingatestone, Essex.
Other rail and Tube services suffered delays this morning. Virgin, London Overground and London Midland services were disrupted after a person fell under a train at Euston. A man was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Police are not treating the incident as suspicious.
Southern Rail and Gatwick Express trains to and from Victoria were delayed due to late-finishing night engineering work in the Selhurst area. The Piccadilly, Central, Jubilee and Metropolitan lines suffered signal failure. RMT union leader Bob Crow said it had been "the worst morning since last winter" and blamed the "fragmentation of services and lack of investment".
© London Evening Standard
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