Sniffer dogs being used on rail routes to track metal thieves

Network Rail are enlisting specially trained sniffer dogs to help track down metal thieves who caused major delays on several rail routes.

Network Rail sniffer dogs

Credit: Network Rail

Specially trained sniffer dogs are now being used to track down metal thieves who cause major delays to passengers and freight on several rail routes. Sniffer dogs are being used on rail routes such as the Chiltern main line, North West rail routes, key West Midlands rail routes and the West Coast main line between London Euston and Crewe.

Network Rail has enlisted the canine recruits, provided by Search Dogs UK, to crack down on criminals who steal vital cables and materials from the railway and catch those who illegally sell those items on.

A widespread operation is underway to mark railway property with SelectaDNA, a permanent synthetic solution only visible under special police torches, so metal can be found and identified after it goes missing. The special DNA spray also has a unique scent which the dogs can detect, leading police directly to any stolen supplies illegally on sale at scrap metal dealers.

“Metal theft continues to cause huge problems for passengers and freight customers at a very significant cost to our business, which is of course funded by the taxpayer,” Andrea Graham, Head of Crime and Security for Network Rail’s North West and Central region, said. “We are always looking at new ways to crack down on criminals and now we have man’s best friend on the case too. Our message to thieves who think they can steal from us is clear, we will find you and bring you to justice, because you are not only putting you own life at risk by trespassing on the tracks, but also the lives of our passengers and staff.”

Figures released by Network Rail show that metal theft incidents have caused a total cost to the taxpayer across the whole country between 2017 and 2022 that was nearly £16 million with more than 330 thefts.

Surprise scrap dealer site visits, in conjunction with the telecoms industry, have been taking place in a week of action to remind traders not to handle stolen metal and of their obligations under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013. By law, dealers must ensure traded metal is legally sourced and that sellers’ details are recorded and kept as part of any sale. Organised criminal gangs are increasingly targeting metal used in infrastructure and exploiting high metal prices.

“We are working with partners across the entire country and throughout the metals recycling industry to target those who we suspect of flouting the law or operating outside of their licence,” Superintendent Mark Cleland, National Lead for metal crime at British Transport Police, said. “By taking a multi-agency approach, we are maximising our ability to identify those who are attacking our national infrastructure, making it harder for them to sell stolen metal and gain from their activities.”

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