Specially trained sniffer dogs are being used to track down metal thieves who cause major delays to passengers and freight on the West Coast main line between London Euston and Crewe.
Network Rail has enlisted the canine recruits, provided by Search Dogs UK, to crack down on criminals who steal vital cables and materials from the railway and catch those who illegally sell those items on.
A widespread operation is underway to mark railway property with SelectaDNA, a permanent synthetic solution only visible under special police torches, so metal can be found and identified after it goes missing. The spray has a unique scent which the dogs can detect, leading police directly to any stolen supplies illegally on sale at scrap metal dealers.
Andrea Graham, head of crime and security for Network Rail’s North West and Central region, said: “Metal theft continues to cause huge problems for passengers and freight customers at a very significant cost to our business – which is of course funded by the taxpayer.
“We’re always looking at new ways to crack down on criminals and now we have man’s best friend on the case too. Our message to thieves who think they can steal from us is clear – we will find you and bring you to justice, because you’re not only putting your own life at risk by trespassing on the tracks, but also the lives of our passengers and staff.”
Figures released by Network Rail show that since 2017 there were 27 incidents of serious metal theft on the West Coast main line between Crewe, Stoke-on-Trent, Stafford, Northampton, Milton Keynes, Watford, and London Euston.
This included serious damage to the signalling system on the West Coast main line near Crewe during the first national Covid-19 lockdown in spring 2020.
These incidents across Network Rail’s West Coast South route caused trains to be delayed for a total of 12,000 minutes – or 8 days – and cost the taxpayer an estimated £1.5 million.
The total cost to the taxpayer across the whole country between 2017 and 2022 was nearly £16 million and there were more than 330 thefts.
Surprise scrap dealer site visits, in conjunction with the telecoms industry, have been taking place in a week of action to remind traders not to handle stolen metal and of their obligations under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013.
By law, dealers must ensure traded metal is legally sourced and that sellers’ details are recorded and kept as part of any sale.
Organised criminal gangs are increasingly targeting metal used in infrastructure and exploiting high metal prices.
Superintendent Mark Cleland, British Transport Police national lead for metal crime, said: “We’re working with partners across the entire country and throughout the metals recycling industry to target those who we suspect of flouting the law or operating outside of their licence.
“By taking a multi-agency approach, we are maximising our ability to identify those who are attacking our national infrastructure, making it harder for them to sell stolen metal and gain from their activities. We’re warning would-be offenders that we will take action against them and anyone involved in the theft and trade of metal from the railway will be brought to justice.”
Image credit: Network Rail