London's rush hour commuters were subjected to major disruption today after thieves stole more than 100 metres of cable from a line of Hertfordshire.
The 25,000 volt cable was cut and stolen overnight, bringing morning peak-time services into Liverpool Street station to a standstill.
Detective Inspector Terry Pearce, of British Transport Police's dedicated cable theft team, said: "Theft of cable can, and does, cause significant delays and cancellations to the rail industry - as well as costing the industry millions of pounds each year.
"What thieves don't realise is that they're attempting to steal cable carrying up to 25,000 volts. Not only are they risking a court appearance, they're also risking their lives."
The theft was reported after a train driver happened to spot the length of cable was missing. Hertford Branch Line services were fully suspended while repairs were carried out.
Once services resumed, commuters heading into the capital were hit by further delays after a train broke down in Chelmsford. Disruption lasted throughout the morning peak.
British Transport Police are working with National Rail and a host of government agencies on a series of UK-wide raids on scrap metal merchants in a bid to catch cable thieves.
Recent figures revealed a near seven-fold increase in cable theft and related incidents on Tube lines, and a three-and-a-half-fold rise across the UK mainline rail network.
Bob Crow, leader of The National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers, said: "Yet again rail services are disrupted due to the continuing scourge of cable theft."
He repeated his demands for profits from the rail operators to be diverted "into providing the staffing and security levels required to stop this lethal criminality on the tracks."