Harborough MP Neil O’Brien has blasted thieves who stole vital signalling cable sparking a day of absolute chaos for thousands of angry local rail commuters on Monday.
The Conservative MP was caught up in the mayhem himself after the gang stole 500 metres of high-value cable for scrap from the main London line at Kibworth Beauchamp.
Market Harborough’s busy railway timetable was torn up as passenger services were seriously delayed or cancelled altogether almost all day.
Trains only finally got back on track on Monday night after Network Rail engineers battled to replace the cable.
Mr O’Brien told the Harborough Mail that he was caught up in the “chaos” himself as he headed 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 it was absolutely rammed,” the Harborough MP told us.
“This action is totally reprehensible and inexcusable.
“Thousands of people from across Harborough and beyond were very late or didn’t arrive at all 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,” said Mr O’Brien.
“And I just hope that the criminals get a proper sentence fitting the crime when they do get nicked and are taken into court.”
Cllr Phil King, who leads Harborough District Council, slammed the cable criminals as he told us: “This is despicable.
“There is no excuse for this kind of crime.
“I live in Kibworth and there are very few places where these criminals would have had access to the line to steal this cable,” said the council leader.
“I just hope that the people who have done this are caught quickly and properly dealt with.”
Leading Harborough district councillor Phil Knowles said: “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 were forced to risk life and limb once again to replace the stolen cable and rectify the situation,” said Cllr Knowles, who leads the Liberal Democrats on Harborough council.
“But hundreds if not thousands of rail passengers saw 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 has had 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 all of 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.”
Gary Walsh, Route Director for Network Rail’s East Midlands route, said: “The impact of railway cable theft must not be under-estimated.
“Not only does it waste taxpayers’ money and frustratingly make passengers late, but it also holds up the delivery of important freight supplies and takes key railway staff away from their work,” said Mr Walsh.
“We’re committed to tackling this issue and we work closely with British Transport Police and other partners to hammer home that criminal behaviour – trespass, vandalism and theft – will not be tolerated on Britain’s railway.”
A British Transport Police spokeswoman said: “British Transport Police were called to the line in Kibworth at 10.18am (on 16 May) following a report of railway cable theft.
“Officers attended and discovered around 500 metres of cable had been stolen from the location.
“Enquiries into this incident are ongoing.”
Cable theft costs Network Rail, which operates the country’s vast 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.
“The theft of metal is a big problem for the railway as thieves target signalling cables, overhead power lines and even metal fences to sell for scrap.
“Britain's rail network is designed to be fail safe, which means that when a cable is cut trains are brought to a standstill.
“This protects passengers but can lead to lengthy, frustrating delays while the problem is found and fixed safely.
“A large proportion of our funding comes from the Government, so these thefts are, ultimately, costing taxpayers money.”
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.
Network Rail say they are doing a massive amount of work to crack down on cable theft and catch the thieves.
The national rail giant said they are:
Funding British Transport Police officers
Deploying CCTV to detect people on the network and to support the police
Setting up new ways of securing cables
Using hi-tech forensic marking agents
Bringing in cables which are harder to steal and easier to identify
And setting up a dedicated security team.