Vandals and thieves to blame for thousands of cancelled trains a year

Train operators are determined to crack down on vandals and thieves as new figures published today show the increasing extent of the disruption their actions cause.

The figures, published today by the Association of Train Operating Companies (ATOC), reveal that during the 12 months to October 2010, vandalism and cable theft caused nearly 10,000 trains to be cancelled entirely or cancelled part way through a journey – representing a 40% rise on the previous 12 months.

Overall annual rail punctuality remains at a record high, but vandalism, which includes trespassing, throwing stones at trains, leaving items on rail lines, costs the industry well over £150million a year. ATOC estimates that money would be enough to fund leasing of around 1,200 extra commuter carriages, or the upkeep of around 300 stations for five years.

Cable theft in particular is becoming an increasing problem for the sector, as the price of copper soars due to rising demand in China and India. It is estimated that cable theft has cost the industry a further £35m since 2006.

The figures show that:

• From October 2009 to October 2010, 2,258 trains were fully cancelled and 7,709 were partly cancelled due to vandalism ¬– a 40% rise when compared to the previous year.

• In that 12-month period, there were on average 1,560 delay minutes every day – a 26% rise on the previous year.

Measures taken by train companies to reduce the number of incidents include:

• Merseyrail worked with British Transport Police (BTP) to ban temporarily alcohol and increase police presence on services and at a number of city centre stations, to minimise potential anti-social behaviour in the run up to Christmas.

• Chiltern Railways is using covert cameras at identified ‘hot spot’ sites, putting barriers on the ends of platforms to prevent trespassers, and working with Network Rail to patrol areas that have seen anti-social behaviour and vandalism.

• Northern Rail is working with local secondary school pupils who act as ‘train monitors’, reporting any anti-social behaviour by students and making suggestions for improvements to services.

• First Transpennine Express has been working with BTP in the North East to deny access to the rail network to drunk people and operate a dry train policy, to give a clear message that anti-social behaviour will not be tolerated.

Gary Cooper, Head of Operations at ATOC, said: “Although overall annual train punctuality is at a very high level, a few selfish and thoughtless people are causing considerable disruption and inconvenience to thousands of passengers who are trying to get to work or go about their daily lives. Vandals might think they are just committing a petty crime, but the impact of smashing windows, setting off fire alarms or throwing things at trains and onto lines is much greater on the railways, as so many passengers suffer the consequences.

“Cable theft in particular causes real problems for the entire industry. Thieves who go on the railways lines are also putting themselves at risk of serious injury.

“The millions of pounds spent on dealing with vandalism and the resulting delays also impacts on passengers, as it’s money that could otherwise be spent on improving services.

“Train companies are determined to crack down on vandals and are working closely with British Transport Police and Network Rail to send out a strong message that their criminal behaviour will not be tolerated.”

BTP Chief Superintendent David Wildbore said: “Working with train operators and Network Rail, we have steadily driven down crime on the rail network, by almost a quarter over the past six years. There is still much to do, as these figures show.

“Acts of vandalism committed on the rail network have significant safety implications and can affect thousands of people through service disruption. Cable theft is a particular problem at this time and we are devoting increased resources to this area of serious crime, which causes hours of disruption for passengers.”

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