Rail travel chaos after cable theft


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The Independent Online

Tens of thousands of rail passengers suffered travel chaos today after another cable theft, and a cracked rail, led to huge disruption on some of the country's busiest routes.

Services into London's Waterloo station - used by around 250,000 passengers a day - were heavily delayed by the two early-morning incidents.

A cable theft in the Basingstoke area knocked out signalling control for some hours while engineers rushed to the site to make repairs, which were completed shortly after 7am.

Meanwhile, a hairline crack in a rail near Vauxhall, just outside Waterloo, was spotted by engineers in the early hours in one of the central lines into the central London mainline station.

A Network Rail spokesman said: “Because of the very congested nature of track in this area, engineers are unable to make repairs until overnight tonight, with this line being out for the rest of the day.

“This will mean some cancellations this evening and passengers are advised to check the South West Trains website for more details.”

The railways have been hit by a spate of cable thefts which have led to widespread disruption to services for the past year.

British Transport Police has launched a series of campaigns to tackle the problem, including UK-wide raids of scrap metal merchants.

A South West Trains spokesman said: “We are extremely frustrated that our passengers' journeys are being disrupted again this morning and we are sorry for the inconvenience this will cause.

“Network Rail engineers are working hard to repair the problems as soon as possible and we will keep our customers updated.”

The train operator announced a number of service alterations which are expected to remain in place for the rest of the day, including a shuttle service between Woking and Alton, Shepperton and Kingston, and Surbiton and Hampton Court, West of England services starting and finishing at Basingstoke, and the cancellation of trains to and from Dorking in Surrey.

Passengers on some other routes also faced delays.

A signalling problem at Reading in Berkshire caused hold-ups for customers with the CrossCountry and First Great Western train companies, with some services delayed by up to 45 minutes.

A level crossing problem at Ely in Cambridgeshire caused delays between King's Lynn and Ely to passengers travelling with the First Capital Connect and National Express East Anglia train companies.

On the London Underground, the Waterloo & City line was suspended for a time during the rush-hour due to a fire alert. 

A spokesman for the Association of Train Operating Companies said: “Cable thieves' thoughtless actions are regularly bringing disruption to thousands of rail passengers up and down the country.

“The rail industry is working hard to tackle the organised gangs and opportunist thieves who are causing the problems.

“To deal with the problem more effectively, we need tighter regulation on the sale of scrap metal and tougher sentences for offenders.”