Page last updated at 06:04 GMT, Tuesday, 5 August 2008 07:04 UK

Warning after 83,000 track theft

Rail track (generic)
Metal theft on railways is a big problem, police say.

A man who stole 171.6 tonnes of railway track could have caused a serious train crash, police say.

Anthony Porretta, 53, from Newport, south Wales, was jailed for two years and nine months at Bristol Crown Court after he admitted the theft.

British Transport Police said he used a crane to load five lorries with the old track on the main line running between south Wales and London Paddington.

He then sold the metal, worth 83,000, to a scrap merchant in Newport.

British Transport Police, which carried out an investigation into the theft, said the track had previously been removed by engineers from Acton Turnville, in South Gloucestershire, for a renovation project and placed it at the side of the railway line.

During the early hours of 1 December, 2006, unemployed Porretta, arrived to steal the metal, they said.

'Strong message'

Acting Detective Inspector Jon Rawson from British Transport Police said: "In a worst-case scenario Porretta's actions could have caused a train to crash.

"There are safety procedures to follow when removing redundant track from beside the railway line, which Porretta did not follow.

"A piece of rail track could have struck a passing train and caused a serious rail incident. Fortunately this did not happen."

Speaking after Porretta's sentencing on Monday, he added: "[We] hope that it sends out a strong message that this type of crime will not be tolerated.

"The fact that this man has received a substantial prison sentence should serve as a warning to any thieves who steal from the railway infrastructure."

Police say metal theft is up nationally by at least 150% and is estimated to cost British industry around 360m annually.

They say there is a particular problem on the railways.

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