2 Cable theft on the railway|
Scale of the problem
5. As figure 1 shows, cable theft has been increasing
in frequency since 2004/05. The incidence of cable theft has "accelerated
sharply" over the past few years.
There are now an average of six to eight incidents a day related
to cable theft on the rail network.
6. Cable theft is not a new problem for the rail
industry. In 2008 the NAO highlighted cable theft as a cause of
delays on the rail network and noted this problem had worsened
since 2006. Indeed,
Norman Baker MP told us "it has been an issue for some time
and the industry initially took the view that it was best kept
Figure 1 Graph showing the increasing number
of cable theft incidents since 2004/05 (line) and the corresponding
increase in the amount Network Rail has paid in compensation to
train operators as a result of these incidents (bar).
7. Alongside the increasing frequency of cable theft,
there has been a shift in its geographic distribution. Cable theft
had previously been concentrated in the north east of England,
with fewer incidents elsewhere in the country. The British Transport
Police (BTP) told us that the north east is "the epicentre
of metal theft as far as the railway is concerned."
Whilst cable theft is still more prevalent in the north east,
it is no longer so geographically focused. Figure 2 highlights
the changing distribution of cable theft across the UK from 2006/07
to 2011/12, illustrating what Network Rail described as a "migration
of metal theft further south".
Figure 2 Graphs showing the incidence of cable
theft, broken down by region. Data provided by Network Rail show
the total number of incidents in 2006/07 was 538 and in 2011/12
Costs of cable theft
8. Direct costs of cable theft to the rail industry
arise from track maintenance, replacing stolen cable and extra
staffing requirements. In addition, if delays attributable to
Network Rail exceed a certain threshold, it is required to compensate
train operating companies for the disruption. The increasing cost
to Network Rail of compensation payments to train operators due
to delays caused by cable theft since 2004/05 is shown in figure
1. In the period from 2008/09 to 2010/11, Network Rail estimated
that it had paid out almost £43 million in direct costs as
a result of cable theft.
9. Witnesses told us of the broader financial impact
associated with cable theft and its disruption to the transport
network. For example,
ATOC estimates that each year there may be an indirect cost to
the economy of £16-20 million arising from train delays.
However, we were also told that such estimates of the broader
economic effect of rail disruption from cable theft are difficult
to state with any accuracy.
Effects of cable theft
10. ATOC estimates that around 3.8 million passenger
journeys were delayed or cancelled as a result of cable theft
in 2010/11, with incidents in this period having caused over 360,000
delay minutes. Research
by Passenger Focus indicates that rail punctuality is the single
biggest driver of overall satisfaction with rail services,
and this is undermined by the disruption caused by cable theft.
In addition to delaying journeys, disruption also suppresses demand,
as passengers switch to other modes of transport. ATOC told us
"there is a clear link between reliability and our ability
to attract people on to the railways"
and that approximately 500,000 passenger journeys were not taken
last year due to this suppressed demand.
11. Network Rail provided us with information about
the amount of compensation paid to train operators under Schedule
8 of the track access agreement for disruption to the rail network.
The table below indicates the increasing costs to Network Rail
over recent years as a result of cable theft (table 1).Table
1 Costs to Network Rail from cable theft-related compensation
payments to train operators.
||Delay minutes||Compensation cost (Schedule 8)
||Total Direct Cost to NR (estimate)
12. In addition to these arrangements, passengers
who suffer delays to their journeys may be eligible to claim compensation
for this disruption from the train operators. The manner in which
this compensation is administered depends principally upon the
franchise agreement relating to each train operator, but ATOC
told us that train operators generally provided "more generous
compensation during delay than the strict letter of the rules
requires them to".
However, ATOC was unable to enlighten us as to the amount of compensation
that train operators paid to their customers and how this compares
to the amount the operators themselves received under Schedule
8. There should be greater clarity in compensation arrangements
so it can be demonstrated that train operators are not profiting
from the disruption caused by cable theft. We recommend that the
Office for Rail Regulation works with the parties to secure open
publication of these data. In our view, train operators should
ensure that all eligible passengers receive the delay compensation
to which they are entitled and we call on ATOC to undertake work
into how this could be achieved. We recommend that the Government
presses ATOC to carry out and publish this work.
13. The performance of rail freight services is equally
affected by the disruption caused by cable theft. Rail freight
operators told us that they have experienced over 110,000 delay
minutes due to cable theft over the past year.
Such delays may be compounded for freight services by the prioritisation
of passenger transport and the additional costs associated with
performance penalties to customers or delays in forward distribution.
Freight operators also told us there is a reputational cost to
their business, as increasing delays make transporting freight
by rail seem less reliable.
14. There are various risks posed to offenders, rail
staff and passengers as a result of cable theft: ten people have
been killed on the railway during the past year as a result of
metal theft-related incidents.
Offenders risk their own safety by handling cable which may be
live and vehicles or equipment left by the track could prove hazardous.
In general witnesses told us that cable theft was not a safety
issue for passenger services, as signals are designed to fail-safe
and turn red to stop trains if disruption occurs.
However, there are issues for passenger safety if passengers attempt
to exit stopped trains. We heard from the Minister that "there
are existing measures on the railway which apply where trains
can safely be moved under caution"
that are being looked at in order to help passengers who are stopped
near a station to complete their journey. We welcome Government
measures to help stop passengers from being stranded in trains
near a station. However, passenger safety should be a priority,
and we note that the Office for Rail Regulation highlighted the
potential for greater human error during these procedures.
We recommend that the Department for Transport inform us of
the changes it intends to make to current practices which would
enable stranded passengers to be taken safely to stations through
red lights during periods of disruption.
5 Ev 21 para 6. Back
Q 2. Back
National Audit Office, Reducing passenger rail delays by better
management of incidents, HC 308, 14 March 2008, p12 and p36. Back
Q 95. Back
Adapted from data in Ev 26. Back
Q 70. Proposed explanations for this trend were outlined in Ev
37 para 1.3. Back
Q 12. Back
Adapted from data in Ev 26. Back
Ev 21 para 2. Back
Ev 22 para 14. Back
Q 36. Back
Ev 21 para 14. Back
Ev 29. Back
Passenger Focus, Delays and disruption, rail passengers have
their say, December 2010. Back
Q 37. Back
Table adapted from Ev 21 para 7. Back
Ev 28. Back
Ev w1 para 2. Back
Ev 23 para 22. Back
Ev w5, Ev w22. Back
Briefing cable theft, RAIL, 682, p43. Back
Ev w1 para 6. Back
Q 123. Back
Ev w22. Back