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South Shore blames copper thefts for delays

September 11, 2008 3:00:19 PM PDT
If you've experienced delays on the South Shore rail line these days, it was because of an unusual thefts. Someone stole thick copper cable from two locations in Hammond and one in Gary this week, disabling the track signals.

Frustrated commuters boarded a South Shore train car wondering if their ride will be delayed because of a string of thefts plaguing the line.

"I'm tired of calling in my office, giving more excuses about the good ol' South Shore," said rider Raynae Bakkar.

Thieves have been stealing the copper wire that feeds and controls the display of the train signals on the commuter line, rendering them inactive. The latest targets include the line's Hegewisch station and stations in Hammond and Gary and marks the tenth time thieves have struck since June.

"They will dig that out of the ground and cut it from the signal bases and from the rail. And then take it to the scrap yard where they collect their payout," said Police Chief Robert Byrd, N. Indiana Commuter Transportation District.

Chief Byrd said the public is certainly inconvenienced but in no danger when thieves steal the control wires because the signals either remain red or go dark, which a train engineer reads as a stop signal. The process causes delays.

"We're hauling approximately 15,000 people a day in and out of Chicago. And, for example, yesterday morning's rush hour, our passengers were arriving 20 minutes late," said Byrd.

The string of crimes follows months of other thefts of other metal items, such au tires rims and catalytic converters from commuter parking lots, all because of the high price of copper. While police have contacted scrap metal businesses in the area to encourage them not to buy from questionable sellers, legitimate scrappers, such as Elizabeth Rosado and her husband say the crimes hurt their ability to make money.

"We're trying to live month by month by what we get. Everyone is on a fixed income. And then you have these guys doing that illegally. You can't even go to alleys and look for your scraps," said Rosado.

South Shore transit police have stepped up patrols and surveillance in hopes of making an arrest, but until then all commuter Robert Brown can do is hope for the best.

"Sometimes it does and sometimes it don't. It depends," Brown said.

Repairs have been made to the damaged signals. Authorities hope to eventually install cameras on the front of trains and inside rail cars in an effort to increase security. But police say as long as 20 feet of copper wire can fetch upwards of $100, most likely someone will try to steal it.


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