RAIL bosses have warned of disruption on services between Aberdeen and Inverness until Wednesday, as police hunt an organised gang of thieves responsible for what is believed to be the biggest ever cable theft from Scotland’s railways.
ScotRail has been forced to cancel all services on the Huntly to Inverurie stretch of the line since Sunday after thieves stole a mile of signalling cable from the tracks in Aberdeenshire.
Network Rail said the “very stupid and dangerous” cable theft was the biggest they had dealt with in Scotland and had caused major disruption.
It is believed that the thieves responsible for the travel chaos used at least one truck to remove a mile of valuable copper signalling cable along a remote one-mile stretch of the busy rail line at Gartly, near Huntly.
Express buses have been hired to take passengers directly between Aberdeen and Inverness. Northbound rail services are terminating at Inverurie, while southbound services are terminating at Huntly, with buses operating between the two towns.
A spokesman for ScotRail said: “We are providing replacement buses to help limit the impact upon our customers, but people should still allow extra time for their journeys. We apologise to any customers who are inconvenienced.”
A Network Rail spokesman said: “If we can identify who is responsible then we will push for the strongest penalties to be applied. Cable theft is not only stupid and dangerous, it severely disrupts the network and the travelling public.”
He stressed that there could be no “quick fix”. “It is quite a complex job,” he said. “The cable comes in drums of several hundred metres and we have a mile to replace. The engineers will roll out all the cable, join it together then power it up and test all the signals before trains can get back up and running.
“We estimate the work will go on until the end of tomorrow. But everything that can be done to restore services as quickly as possible is certainly being done. The damage has been extensive.”
Network Rail estimate cable theft costs the rail company more than £19 million each year.
The spokesman said: “Copper has quite a high resale value and it is very hard to stop people stealing it. It is essentially organised gangs that commit these crimes – not opportunist thieves – and they will have come prepared.”
A spokesman for British Transport Police said: “Police are currently carrying out a number of inquiries into the incident, including house-to-house inquiries and viewing any available CCTV from the area to identify those responsible.”
Local SNP MSP Dennis Robertson also condemned the theft. He said: “This theft is a reckless crime and one that is causing heavy disruption for commuters across the North-east. The theft posed a massive danger to both rail users and those that have committed the crime.”