Copper thieves targeting railroad signals

January 7, 2008 4:04:11 PM PST
Prices for metals like copper are soaring and that means thieves are targeting the commodity. In Will County, copper thieves are ripping off the wires at rail crossings.

Motorists traveling on Laraway Road south of Joliet Monday morning may not have realized the train signal was out. The repairs were made quickly after someone stole the copper wiring that gives signals to the approaching train.

"We were notified by Union Pacific this morning that someone had come along here and cut the copper, removed some copper wire," said Pat Barry, Will County Sheriff's spokesman.

At a crossing in Unincorporated Jackson Township, two miles of copper wire was stolen. To replace it cost nearly $10,000. The Will County Sheriff's Department spokesman says there has been an increase in copper theft on rail lines and elsewhere.

"The cost of copper has gone up to where we're having a lot of thefts, especially construction sites. Even the power plants are having a lot of their copper taken. This is not just a local problem but really a national problem," Barry said.

On Friday, Wilmington Police arrested two out of work electricians for stealing copper wire at a Stripmine Road crossing.

"They took electric tape and wrapped it around the whole length of the shaft so they wouldn't get electrocuted. They would cut it and drop it and roll it up and walk out with it," said Deputy Chief Mike Boyle, Wilmington Police.

A Union Pacific spokesman says the greatest danger in these cases is to those trying to take the wires as the wires are live. The spokesman also says the copper wiring does not affect the lights or gates motorists would see at a railroad crossing. If power is cut to those signals, they would uses battery power to signal a problem with lights flashing and gates down.