Angry passengers have been forced to suffer repeated delays and cancellations all day after criminals stole 500 metres of critical signalling cable.
The local railway timetable was torn up after the gang pinched the massive amount of high-value cable for scrap from the main London rail line at Kibworth Beauchamp overnight.
But tonight trains are slowly getting back on track after Network Rail engineers replaced the cable and carried out vital safety tests.
You can check out the East Midlands Railway webpage here to get the latest breaking travel news:
The cable thieves, who must have had a lorry to escape with their huge haul, are now being hunted by British Transport Police.
The devastating theft brought down the signalling system between Leicester and Kettering – forcing trains on the Sheffield/Nottingham/London route to be delayed or cancelled altogether.
A British Transport Police spokeswoman said this afternoon: “British Transport Police were called to the line in Kibworth at 10.18am this morning (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.”
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.”
Cllr Phil King, who leads Harborough District Council, slammed the cable criminals as he told us this afternoon: “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 and dealt with.”
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.”
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.”
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.
“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.