Reducing trespass and theft on the rail network

In 2009, cable thefts were estimated to be costing Network Rail and UK taxpayers up to £16m a year, causing significant delays and disruptions to the network. The London to North West (LNW) mainline was being particularly badly hit by cable thieves, resulting in delay minutes totalling 119,540.

Despite being highly skilled at building and maintaining railways, there was an acceptance within Network Rail that the knowledge required to successfully influence criminal activity on the railway fell outside of their skillset. Invaluable assistance was, and continues to be, provided by British Transport Police (BTP), but a lack of traceable evidence (the means to link cable thieves to the crime) often made it difficult for the police to prosecute offenders. Criminals quickly became all too aware of this, which perpetuated the problem.

SmartWater Technology was initially contracted as a specialist partner to tackle cable theft on the LNW mainline and tasked with increasing the traceability of Network Rail’s cable infrastructure in order to deter thefts. Achieving this would not only drive down delay minutes for Network Rail, it would also maximise opportunities for BTP to prosecute offenders by heightening accountability.

SmartWater devised a holistic asset management and security strategy in close collaboration with both Network Rail and BTP. The first step of this strategy involved analysing Network Rail’s route crime data using SmartWater intelligence analysts to identify hotspots, crime trends and emerging threats across the LNW line. Threat assessments were then carried out by SmartWater Investigators to identify specific vulnerabilities. Not only did this identify cable and other assets at risk of theft, they also provided intelligence on damage to perimeter fencing and access routes used by thieves, trespassers and vandals to infiltrate the railway.

Activity carried out on the rail network included:

  • The use of SmartWater covert cameras at access points to identify thieves and trespassers.
  • Deployment of SmartWater traceable liquids to mark cable at high-risk locations, making it identifiable if stolen.
  • Regular scrap yard visits to search for SmartWater-marked metals and influence the buying behaviour of scrap dealers.
  • Equipping police stations with SmartWater detection equipment and providing training on recovery procedures.
  • Localised advertising (leaflet drops) and media campaigns to heighten awareness.

The following video is of a BBC news broadcast relating to a successful SmartWater Technology operation which resulted in the imprisonment of a gang of thieves that targeted the railway network in the Midlands:

Over the 8-year period, LNW saw:

  • 89.4% reduction in incidents of live cable theft.
  • 78.9% reduction in delay minutes
  • 170+ Arrests made or positive interventions of cable thieves or trespassers

As a result, SmartWater Technology’s team of talented risk managers were presented with a national award by the Rail Industry in recognition of their successful campaign: