Police investigating the theft of copper cabling on the rail network have said that they are considering the possibility that some of the thefts have been coordinated by those who have a knowledge of how the rail system works. British Transport Police chief constable Andy Trotter said it was obvious that in some cases the thieves knew exactly where to find what they were looking for.

Incidences of cable theft have been increasing as the price of copper lines continues to rise. Over the past two years the price has risen by around 30 per cent. According to chief constable Trotter, the crimes are committed by criminals ranging from opportunists to gangs involved in organised crime.

Police are now focusing on independent contractors who have worked for, or are currently working for, Network Rail. Theft of cable in the last few months has caused misery for thousands of commuters who have been forced to endure long delays to their journeys.

Theft of cable earlier in the month near London Bridge station resulted in 146 service cancellations during the peak travel period as well as delays to a further 840 trains. Last week a train driver was forced to perform an emergency stop after an overhead line which had been damaged by thieves smashed into his windscreen.

Network Rail said that between 2010 and 2011 there have been just shy of 1,000 cable theft incidents. Repairs and compensation have cost £16.5 million and passengers have had to endure more than 6,000 hours of delays.