Metal thieves have struck on a train line between Aberdeen and Inverness for the second time in three days, causing more misery for commuters.
Just hours after Network Rail engineers had replaced more than a mile of vital signalling cable, stolen from the track on Sunday, services had to be halted after it was discovered that thieves had brought down almost half a mile of cable in another stretch of line, only a mile away, in a bid to steal the valuable copper.
British Transport Police will now use a helicopter equipped with infra-red cameras in their hunt for the thieves who brought rail services to a standstill for the third successive day.
Normal rail services between Aberdeen and Inverness were eventually fully restored shortly before 2pm yesterday.
British Transport Police (BTP) have launched a major hunt to track down the organised gang or gangs responsible for the rail chaos. Chief Superintendent Ellie Bird, of BTP, said: “This is the second theft in three days from the same area, and officers have stepped up their patrols in the location in order to identify those responsible.
“It is of particular concern that thieves are not aware of the dangers and continue to put their lives at risk by trespassing on the tracks and cutting live signalling cable.”
She continued: “There is a common assumption that cable theft is a victimless crime, with the only effects being felt by the railway industry.
“As we have seen here, this is simply not the case. A section of the line has been brought to a halt while essential repairs are carried out and these incidents have caused extensive disruption to journeys, with hundreds of trains across the Aberdeenshire area being cancelled.”
Chief Supt Bird added “We’ll not only be stepping up patrols on the ground, but we’ll also be utilising a helicopter in the area, giving us a view for miles to monitor any suspicious activity. We have officers carrying out a full search of the track to gather any forensic evidence, as well as viewing CCTV in and around the surrounding area.”
A spokesman for Network Rail said that engineers, who had been working around the clock to repair the line at Gartly, near Huntly, since Sunday’s theft of cable was discovered, had completed their signalling repairs around 9:30pm on Monday night. Only four hours later, at 1:40am, engineers still on scene and testing signalling equipment detected another cabling breach on the line at nearby Leith Hall, Kennethmont.
The spokesman said: “About 800 metres of cable had been damaged. Engineers were still testing the system when this new cut was detected. The cable had been taken out but it hadn’t been taken away.”
A BTP spokesman added: “After a search was carried out with Network Rail engineers, it was discovered that around a quarter of a mile of cable had been cut from a telegraph pole. Investigators are looking to see if the incident on Sunday afternoon and this morning’s thefts are linked, although officers are keeping an open mind.”
A ScotRail spokesman said: “We apologise to any customers who have been inconvenienced and welcome the efforts to bring the culprit or culprits to justice.”
Network Rail estimates that cable theft costs the rail company more than £19 million each year.