Thousands of rail commuters across Harborough are being hit by train delays and disruption today after thieves stole 500 metres of signalling cable.
Passengers using Market Harborough station are seeing the local railway timetable being ripped up after the criminals stole the massive amount of high-value cable from the main line at Kibworth Beauchamp overnight.
The organised gang, who must have had a lorry to escape with their huge haul, are now being hunted by British Transport Police.
The theft has brought down the signalling system between Leicester and Kettering – forcing trains on the Sheffield/Nottingham/London route to be delayed or cancelled altogether.
Network Rail engineers are now being forced to find replacement cable as they battle to fix the serious issue.
They are hoping to resolve the problem and get all trains in and out of Market Harborough running normally again by 5.30pm this evening.
This afternoon Harborough MP Neil O’Brien told the Harborough Mail that he was caught up in the “chaos” as he travelled south to London for vital ministerial meetings.
“I was lucky that I was able to catch a train that had been delayed.
“But it was very late and was absolutely rammed,” the Conservative MP told us.
“This action is totally reprehensible and inexcusable.
“Thousands of people from across Harborough and beyond will be late today because of this heinous crime.
“It was absolute chaos – this is wholly irresponsible.
“I’d urge anyone who knows anything about this cable theft to contact the police straight away.
“And I just hope that the criminals get a proper sentence fitting the crime when they do get nicked and are taken into court.”
Leading Harborough district councillor Phil Knowles told the Mail: “This is outrageous, it’s just awful.
“It’s totally unacceptable that these criminals have stolen this cable and wrecked so many people’s days.
“Engineers are being forced to risk life and limb once again to replace this stolen cable and rectify this situation,” said Cllr Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrats on Harborough council.
“But hundreds if not thousands of rail passengers have seen their days seriously affected by these blatant thieves.
“So many of us use the railways and catch the train for business and pleasure.
“The innocent victims of this theft will have been travelling to work, seeing family and friends or going off for the day.
“This crime is having such a massive negative impact on our entire community in Harborough,” said Cllr Knowles.
“The thieves must have had at least one lorry to take away their plunder.
“I would appeal to anyone who has seen anything suspicious to alert the police as soon as possible.
“These criminals must be caught and punished.”
Cable theft costs Network Rail, which operates the country’s railway infrastructure, millions of pounds every year.
“The total cost to the economy – taking into account the impact of freight delays to power stations and supermarkets, and on passengers who miss appointments or have their day ruined – is even higher,” warns Network Rail.
You can help by reporting suspicious behaviour on the tracks to British Transport Police on 0800 40 50 40, by texting 61016 or calling Crimestoppers anonymously on 0800 555 111.