Passengers on ten trains that normally travelled on a stretch of track on the Southern Main Line (Södra stambanan) between Tranås and Nässjö in south central Sweden were forced to disembark and take buses in order to get past the affected area.
Tuesday’s copper wire theft was the latest episode in what officials from the Swedish Transport Administration (Trafikverket) have labeled “sabotage” whereby daring and entrepreneurial thieves risk their lives to profit from the rising price of copper.
“We have to view this as a problem for society when the thefts are so widespread that they can be compared with the sabotage of important societal infrastructure,” agency head Gunnar Malm said in a statement.
In the last half of 2011, Sweden’s rail lines were hit by 147 copper thefts, according to Transport Administration figures, resulting in an estimated 120 million kronor ($13.5 million) in additional repair and surveillance costs.
In mid-March, some 200 trains travelling along the same 60-kilometre stretch of track between Tranås and Nässjö were halted for 12 hours.
The theft of the copper line was so large that authorities theorized the thieves likely needed a large truck to make off with their booty.
Investigators believe the thieves were dressed as rail repair workers in order to avoid detection.
Despite the fact that the cables cut by the thieves are high-voltage wires, there are occasions when the cables aren’t conducting electricity.
“The thieves know exactly when they should cut. They even take the grounding cables,” Linus Eriksson, a manager with the Transport Administration, told the TT news agency following the March thefts.
While passengers grumble about delayed trains, Eriksson explained that freight traffic has also been hard hit by the copper thefts.
“The Southern Main Line is the main artery of Swedish rail traffic from north to south and these have huge affects,” he said.
However, cutting the high-voltage lines in order to procure high-priced copper can be a deadly business, as one unlucky would-be copper thief found out in early 2011.
The fatal attempted robbery took place about a year ago near Helsingborg in southwestern Sweden when a 32-year-old man was electrocuted and died after clipping a live wire carrying 16,000 volts of electricity.