Last week, like many others commuting on the Portsmouth line to London, I was left stranded at Petersfield station due to the theft of the copper cable to one of the signal boxes. The previous week, another theft had brought the Brighton line to a halt. Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther of the British Transport Police has described the thefts as one of the force’s biggest challenges after terrorism.

The first 15 weeks of 2011 saw 1,151 recorded incidents across the network-a huge increase on previous years. The criminals range from opportunists to serious organised crime driven by the sharp rise in the price of copper. The rail network from the countryside to the towns is frequently cut off, with significant consequences for the commuters, and the train operator Stagecoach has estimated the metal theft to cost the British economy £770 million a year.

It’s not only the railways that are affected. The new high-speed broadband lines are also being pinched. It seems all too easy to do. The police have launched Operation Leopard to counteract these crimes, but with the number of thefts escalating, there are calls for a more robust approach. The countryside, especially, can’t afford to lose its communication routes to the outside world.

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