Figures obtained from British Transport Police (BTP) revealed more than 300 incidents of metal theft between April 2008 and October last year. Vital equipment required to ensure the safe and efficient running of the railway was taken in a third of cases, while more than £250,000 worth was taken in just two hauls.
The most costly theft was £150,000 of rail weighing 70 tons taken from Greenock West on 20 October last year.
An even heavier haul was taken in Roy Bridge, in the Highlands, on 23 April 2010 – 125 tons of rail at a cost of £125,000.
BTP officers believe heavy goods vehicles were involved in both thefts, which are still under investigation. They were the seventh and ninth most costly thefts in the whole of the UK.
Motherwell was the worst-hit town in Scotland.
Motherwell Station and Motherwell train depot saw 11 incidents each, while £1,500 of armoured cable was stolen from Motherwell signalling centre. Lanarkshire as a whole accounted for more than a quarter of all incidents, with multiple thefts in Caldercruix (10), Wishaw (10), Ravenscraig (9), Carstairs (7), Uddingston (6), Croy (4), Holytown (4), Rutherglen (4), Stepps (4), Abington (3), Bargeddie (3), Carluke (3) and Airdrie (2).
More than £40,000 of cable was taken from Carstairs in three separate incidents over three days in late January 2010.
BTP said it regularly used Network Rail’s helicopter to patrol Lanarkshire skies as part of its “heightened” activity in the area.
Elsewhere, more than £30,000 each was taken in single hauls in Bathgate, Bishopbriggs and at Govan Subway Depot, while Aberdeen, Millerhill, Perth and Bishopbriggs saw single thefts worth more than £20,000.
The BTP spokesman said the force worked closely with environmental, transport and tax agencies, utility companies and local forces.
He said: “During our regular days of action, at least once a month, scrap metal dealers are visited and vehicles which may be carrying stolen cable and metal are stopped and searched at multi-agency checkpoints.”
On 14 December, a man was charged with stealing cable ten years ago in Wishaw, while last month Stuart Hoey, 36, was sentenced to six months for cable theft in the same town.
Robert Wright, 46, now an ex-employee of Babcock Rail, received 200 hours’ community service and a £1,000 compensation order for stealing scrap rail from Carmont level crossing last year.
In May three people were arrested for stealing £40,000 of cable which caused more than £200,000 of damage.
A Network Rail spokesman said: “We do all we can to protect the network – investing around £2 million each year to fund extra BTP officers, CCTV, forensic marking techniques and other technology.”