Preventing cable theft

In 2015, there were 810 incidents of cable theft on the Belgian railways, compared to 1,362 in 2012. This significant reduction (40.5%) is the result of a range of targeted actions as part of the National Action Plan against cable theft, which involved technical adjustments, increased monitoring by the police and Securail, increasingly heavy sentencing and changes to the law.

Significant fall in the number of cases of cable theft

The number of cable theft incidents on the Belgian railway network increased by 370% between 2009 and 2012. The number of recorded thefts increased from 290 to 1,362 during this period. In order to put a stop to this malicious trend, Infrabel and SNCB Holding decided to work together on a National Action Plan against cable theft in May 2013. This plan, for which the offices of the Ministers of State-Owned Companies, Home Affairs and the Economy, and of the Secretary of State for Mobility all joined forces, included the following concrete measures:

  • A new law was passed to forbid cash payments in the copper trade.
  • The railway police received an additional 100 officers. This corps carries out random checks in partnership with the federal and local police forces and using helicopters.
  • The profession of 'scrap metal dealer' was more clearly defined and formalised in order to expose illegal dealers more quickly.
  • Infrabel and SNCB Holding worked on awareness campaigns aimed at the general public

Actions against copper theft

Campaigns with a playful approach

The underlying campaign message was three-fold:

  1. The core message is: "Have you seen a cable thief? React quickly and call Securail on 0800 30 230".
  2. We also want to draw the public's attention to a problem with far-reaching consequences. Copper thieves not only impact Infrabel's finances (and so indirectly those of the taxpayer, too), but also cause dangerous situations on and around the tracks, not forgetting major delays to rail traffic.
  3. A third, more implicit, message which we want to communicate is that Infrabel, and by implication the whole SNCB Group, attaches high priority to rail traffic punctuality and is tackling all causes of delay, including those which are difficult to control, such as cable theft.

Local residents on board

Local residents are a very important target group when it comes to reporting cable theft. They can phone us directly on 0800 30 230 if they see any suspicious behaviour close to the railway infrastructure.

What do we mean by a "suspicious situation"?

A few examples:

  • Individuals with wire cutters in the vicinity of the tracks.
  • Fragments of cable jackets lying on the ground close to the tracks.
  • A delivery van parked in an unusual place next to the tracks.
  • People walking along the tracks who are not wearing fluorescent jackets.

The above signs may indicate that copper thieves are or have been at work here. In that case, we strongly recommend a quick phone call to the intervention hotline.

Scrap metal dealers get involved

As well as local residents, Infrabel also addresses scrap metal dealers, as they are just as much a victim of this type of crime as Infrabel. Belgian scrap metal dealers and recycling companies run the risk of having to pay for the costs of the cable thefts if they purchase stolen goods – even without knowing it.

Whenever they are offered cables of suspicious origins, they can contact the police directly (via the emergency number 101). By doing so, they can help the relevant authorities to catch cable thieves and tackle the problem on a structural level.

Of course, it's not always easy to trace the origin of cables offered for sale. That's why, as part of their campaign, Infrabel and SNCB Holding sent dealers a practical guide with photos and descriptions to help them quickly and efficiently identify copper originating from the Belgian rail network.