Organised gang strike railways

EAST ANGLIA: Police believe that an organised gang of metal thieves is operating in Essex - causing chaos for passengers travelling between the region and London.

Paul.geater@eveningstar.co.uk>

EAST ANGLIA: Police believe that an organised gang of metal thieves is operating in Essex - causing chaos for passengers travelling between the region and London.

And among the victims of the latest disaster was a high-profile relaunch by National Express East Anglia which was aiming to highlight improvements for passengers heading to the capital.

Thieves attempted to steal a huge amount of metal wire from the Boreham area between Chelmsford and Hatfield Peveral. It was the fourth theft of metal wires in Essex in just nine days - each time causing chaos for passengers.

This time they took just 100 metres of copper, but in the process they cut through a 25,000-volt cable - risking death in the process - and a lineside fire early yesterday morning was caused by power arcing between the cable and the ground.

All trains between Colchester and Shenfield were suspended while the work was being assessed, and by late morning a very limited service was introduced.

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While there were no trains, buses were taking passengers between Colchester and Billericay - but many commuters decided to return and work from home instead of trying to struggle into the city.

And while those who were making the journey were very fed-up about the delays, most seemed to accept that the problem was caused by thieves - not the rail industry.

Among those passengers facing problems was Dr Elizabeth Courtold who was travelling from her Ipswich home to London to where she works as a pathologist.

She said: “I have a patient who is expecting some test results from me this morning, I shan't be able to make that appointment now and it is very annoying for me and will cause distress to the patient.

“It hasn't been clear to us what is happening and when these things happen it causes massive disruption for everyone.”

Among those caught up in the hold up was Transport Minister and Ipswich MP Chris Mole who was on his way to launch the improved services.

Mr Mole said: “Network Rail and British Transport Police should try to ensure that security is good enough to prevent this kind of thing, and said there had been similar incidents elsewhere in the country where a targeted approach to the problem was necessary.”

A spokesman for British Transport Police said: “We can't comment on who is responsible. We had stepped up patrols in this area - but we have 100 miles of track to cover and can't be everywhere at once.”

A spokesperson for Network Rail said: “We have had other incidents of cable thefts in the past week. It could be organised crime. We will assist British Transport Police with their inquiries. Anyone with information should contact them or Crimestoppers as soon as possible.”

Timeline of my journey:

8am: Arrived at Ipswich station to travel to London for 10am press conference.

8:05: Caught train heading to Colchester. Travelled with transport minister Chris Mole.

8:40: Arrived Colchester. No trains heading south.

8:50: Buses start arriving to take passengers to Billericay.

9:05: I get on coach. It leaves almost immediately - but takes half an hour to get on to Colchester inner by-pass!

10:30: Bus arrives at Billericay after being caught in congestion on the A12 at Marks Tey, Kelvedon and Witham.

10:51: Train for Liverpool Street arrives at Billericay - only four carriages when eight would have been full! Standing room only.

11:25: Train arrives at Liverpool Street. The press conference had been cancelled much earlier! Bump into Mr Mole who took a taxi from Colchester which took the same time as the coach/train option.

11:28: Rush to get train back to Ipswich, due to leave at 11:30.

Noon: Train leaves Liverpool Street.

12:30: Train stops just south of Chelmsford. Starts again 20 minutes later before stopping again just outside station, this time for 30 minutes.

1.30: Train leaves Chelmsford, travels slowly past Boreham, before speeding up.

2:05: Train arrives back in Ipswich - six hours of travelling with three minutes at Liverpool Street station!