As anyone who regularly uses a train service will testify, copper cable theft from railways — a major cause of delays and signal failures — is an irritating problem.
Indeed, according to UK rail infrastructure operator Network Rail it is a crime that costs the economy £19m each year.
In one of the latest efforts to combat this growing threat, European cable specialist Nexans has developed a number of cabling solutions that could make copper cable less attractive to thieves, harder to steal, and easier to trace in the event that it is stolen.
While most railway cables — in particular earthing cables — are constructed entirely from copper, the copper core conductor in Nexan’s new cable is protected by an outer layer of alternating copper and galvanised steel wires that is difficult to cut, and almost impossible to recycle.
According to Nexans, the cables, which are currently being piloted by a number of European rail network operators, are fully compatible with existing copper cables, and use the same tools and cable lugs and with excellent bending properties and form stability.
In a related development, the company has also developed a cable that incorporates a coded fire-resistant copper tape that is intertwined with the cable cores and outer cable.
Typically, after cables have been stolen from railway tracks, thieves burn them to destroy the identification markings on the insulation before selling the copper back into the supply chain. According to Nexans, the coded copper tape on the new cable is virtually impossible to remove, making it easier for scrap dealers to trace the origins of stolen copper.
A Nexans spokesperson added that while the technology has been specifically developed for the rail industry, there is no reason that it couldn’t ultimately be used within the utilities sector, which is also severely affected by cable theft.