Network Rail and the British Transport Police say they are finally winning the war on cable theft. John Ryall reports.
Commuters in Kent and Sussex are suffering fewer delays caused by cable and metal thefts, new figures reveal.
At its peak the problem caused more than 6,000 hours of delays nationally in a single year, and cost Network Rail nearly £800,000.
But fewer incidents were recorded after thieves and rogue scrap dealers were targeted. Last year the thefts caused less than 1,000 hours of trouble for Kent and Sussex travellers. However, it still cost £540,000.
Dave Ward, Network Rail, said: "The reduction in delays and cost is good news for both the industry and passengers.
"The improvements we have seen are down to a number of factors, including British Transport Police targeting thieves and the scrap dealers buying stolen metal.
"We've worked with suppliers and other industries to make metal - particularly our cables - harder to steal and easier to identify and had teams around the network looking at new ways of working to reduce delay and fix thefts more quickly."
It is hoped that the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, passed by Parliament earlier this year and due to come into force in the autumn, will provide a further boost to the industry's efforts to tackle the thieves.
The new law targets rogue scrap metal dealers who trade in stolen metal, bringing in mandatory licensing of scrap metal dealers and outlawing cash payments.
Thieves have tried to steal metal from an electricity substation in Kent risking death. UK Power Networks engineers had to turn off supplies to 422 customers in Woodnesborough to make equipment safe.
The switchgear which was tampered with had 11,000 volts running through it. Tampering with it could result in serious burns or death.
Investigating officer PC Jeremy Botwright, from Kent Police, said: “A theft of this sort is not only a crime against the owner but causes massive disruption to hundreds of other people living in the surrounding area."
Scrap metal dealers in Kent are being encouraged by police to sign up to a voluntary scheme to cut down on thefts. Under the plan, known as Operation Tornado, dealers would have to ask sellers to provide proof of their identity.
Kent Police is one of several forces across the South East and West regions to introduce the scheme in partnership with British Transport Police, the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Home Office and the metal recycling industry.
Officers will be visiting Kent's 57 scrap metal dealers as part of regular metal theft investigations, intelligence gathering and to encourage them to sign up to the scheme.
A bronze statue valued at almost £50,000 has been taken from a garden in Grateley in Hampshire.
Officers say they believe the 6ft by 3ft statue was taken after May 31st 2012.
They are appealing for anyone who may have seen any suspicious vehicles in the area to come forward.
PC Lindsey Spencer from Hampshire Police said “I am appealing for anybody that may have seen or heard anything suspicious in the area prior to, or following the theft. A vehicle would undoubtedly had to have been used to remove the item.