• Railroad Sees Uptick In Metal Theft

  • General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.
General discussion about railroad operations, related facilities, maps, and other resources.

Moderator: Robert Paniagua

  by Watchman318
The first word of the headline was actually "WNYP," but I know it's happening in a lot of places. Some people will steal anything that's not nailed down, and some of them will steal things that are nailed down:
It's endemic of a downturn in the economy. As the tide of conditions falls, crimes like theft rise. With the price of some precious metals, those thefts hit areas where those metals are used. Some thieves will hit the wiring in new and abandoned houses. Others will hit rail yards or signal boxes. The latter create a distinct safety concern, according to an official from the rail industry.

The problems come when the boxes are robbed of the switches that control the sensing of oncoming trains. Those switches are the very thing that drop the gates to prevent vehicles from traveling across the tracks. Belke said those boxes will successfully work without the switches, other than the gates not falling.
Not always is it wire switches from crossing signals. The theft is also happening at places like the rail yard in Olean, where several metal plates were recently stolen and taken to a scrap yard.
<http://www.post-journal.com/page/conten ... l?nav=5192>

I know metal theft from railroad property is really nothing new, but recently, I've been hearing about crossbucks disappearing (not only from storage sites, but from crossings as well), and tie plates and joint bars going missing from inactive-but-not-abandoned track. Not just from stockpiles, but from the track. A year or so ago, somebody in (at least) one part of the country was swiping the aluminum "tub" covers from over the motors on crossing gates. :-(

Believe me, some of these thefts have happened in broad daylight. Somebody without at least a safety vest on, lugging around a sledgehammer and a big pry-bar without benefit of a rail-capable vehicle to carry themselves and the tools, probably needs to be checked out by law enforcement. "If you see something, say something."
  by Desertdweller
This was a big problem on the last railroad I worked for. It was a shortline with an open-air engine facility in a small town. It was poorly lighted and not manned at night.

Being what it was, we had changed-out traction motors and main generators sitting around outside. Thieves would cut the windings right out of these to get the copper.

I offered to spend the night sitting in the cab of one of the units with a gun in my lap, but my boss wouldn't let me. Would I have shot a copper thief? You bet I would! That person was stealing from me and everyone who worked for the railroad by stealing company property.

  by Watchman318
Without an overt threat of deadly force from the thief or thieves, I wouldn't go so far as to open fire on them. But if they believe the person confronting them is capable of blasting them right out of their sneakers if they don't get down and examine the cinders very closely, that should keep them from having to find out in a bad way. If they think they've ticked off an armed crazy man, that can be advantageous to you. ;-)

I was talking to an Amtrak investigator last week about some batteries that were stolen in RI, backups for signals on the Northeast Corridor I think. I'm not sure if it was for lineside or crossing signals, but it might be bad stuff to have go missing from the property, if there was ever a power failure in that area. He mentioned finding cables cut from some kind of return loop in electrified territory, and how without those cables, the voltage can eventually "fry" insulated joints, resulting in a big expense to replace those.

I think it stinks when employees' jobs are affected by parts being missing or unusable, like the traction motors and generators in your example. Worse is when somebody swipes signs or other things that were in place for public safety.
Part of the problem is when prosecutors think track materials are "rusty junk," not realizing that something going for 12¢/lb. as "sorted railroad scrap" might cost a lot more for the railroad to replace. :(
  by Freddy
Every place I've worked around in the south it's been common knowledge, for a long time, among scrap dealers not to touch anything RR related. A few have even helped catch the thieves by pretending to deal while somebody else gets on the phone to the cops.
  by Watchman318
A lot of recyclers have told me they won't accept railroad materials without a letter from the railroad, except maybe very small quantities. I heard of one time when a couple of guys brought some materials to a local scrapyard in a company dump truck, but the recycler didn't want to take anything without a letter. It was all legit, but the recycler wasn't taking any chances.
The trouble is, unless the person operating the scale knows a tie plate from any other kind of steel plate, stuff could get snuck past them. Smaller items like tie plates can be hidden in a larger load of "real junk," too. Then there are those few places that have a reputation for not asking too many questions about where materials came from, and/or not keeping all the records that state law now requires. The reputable recyclers dislike thieves as much as we do, and they'll help whenever they can.
  by Desertdweller
Another problem is that items like motor/generator armature or field windings, cut out of the motor, have no identifying features that would indicate they came from a railroad. They would just be a block of insulated, copper wire segments. Could of come from almost any heavy electrical apparatus.