RAIL chiefs have welcomed the jailing of a thief who caused almost £12,000 of damage to a rail line near Hartlepool.
Thief Mark Harrison, 35, was jailed for 16 months at Teesside Crown Court after he stole 60ft of signalling cable from the line at Seaton Carew.
Now rail chiefs say they are protecting the network from thieves better than ever and warned they will not tolerate thefts.
Harrison, of Baden Street, committed the crime within hours of leaving Hartlepool Magistrates’ Court when he was given a community order for stealing more cable to cash in for scrap.
Harrison’s actions caused signals to fail and trains to grind to a halt for more than two hours.
The cost of the damage ran to £11,846.
Network Rail, which owns and maintains the rail line, welcomed the sentence saying it sent out a clear message to other thieves.
Phil Verster, route managing director for Network Rail, said: “We will not tolerate thefts from our railway.
“The theft of cables from the rail network costs us all millions of pounds every year through missed appointments and delayed freight deliveries.
“This is unacceptable. We are protecting our network better than ever using security patrols, CCTV and forensic marking.
“We will find the thieves and we will work with British Transport Police to bring them to court and seek the toughest penalties.”
Figures from Network Rail show that 364 hours in delays were caused by metal thieves on railway lines in the North East in 2011-12.
There were 95 cable thefts in the area and £689,279 compensation was paid to passengers.
But that is down 37 per cent from 153 the previous year.
Network Rail says it is proof that efforts to tackle the problem are having an impact.
The organisation is supporting indications by the Government that cash transactions for scrap will be outlawed.
It is calling for a full reform of the 1964 Scrap Metal Dealers Act and want magistrates to be given power to impose restrictions upon, and ultimately enforce the closure of yards that break the law.
They are also calling for scrap metal dealers to require proof of identity and to keep adequate records about their customers.