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Metal marking proves effective in deterring thieves

SmartWater Technology Limited : 02 October, 2014  (Application Story)
A greater than 50% reduction has been achieved in thefts of live cable from Network Rail due to th introduction of forensic metal marking technology
Metal marking proves effective in deterring thieves

An innovative crime fighting partnership that has reduced live cable thefts on a critical section of the UK’s railway network by 54.7% has been acknowledged at a prestigious railway industry awards ceremony.

The collaboration between SmartWater Technology, Network Rail and British Transport Police achieved a “Highly Commended” acknowledgement within the Innovation category at this year’s National Rail Awards in recognition of the partnership’s achievements in suppressing cable thefts.

With cable theft costing Network Rail £16m a year and delay minutes on the rise (22,433 in one hotspot), Network Rail adopted SmartWater’s trademarked crime fighting strategy on the London to North West (LNW) mainline. SmartWater collaborated closely with British Transport Police and Network Rail to bring traceability to cable infrastructure and greater accountability to would-be thieves. Analysis of Network Rail’s crime data was also carried out by SmartWater analysts, who identified potential risks, crime hotspots and trends. This allowed for the rapid deployment of SmartWater traceable liquid products and covert cameras to vulnerable locations in order to protect ‘at-risk’ cable.  

The introduction of the SmartWater Strategy created a powerful crime deterrent on the LNW line and over a three year period live cable thefts fell by 54.7%, increasing to 63.4% following the introduction of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 2013.  During the same period delayed minutes to train services on the LNW line were cut by 54.9%, providing a better service to commuters and increasing their confidence in the rail network.

The success of the project relied on a trusted working relationship between SmartWater, Network Rail and British Transport Police. Representatives from all three parties were present at the National Rail Awards ceremony to collect their ‘Highly Commended’ acknowledgement.  

Phil Cleary, Chief Executive of SmartWater comments: “We are delighted that the hard work made by all parties involved has been recognised with this accolade.  The level of engagement and co-operation between our team, Network Rail and British Transport Police has had a dramatic impact, both from a safety perspective and on the return on investment to Network Rail.  We hope this partnership will set a benchmark for fighting crime across the UK’s railways as well as illustrate the wider benefits of a private-public sector collaboration.”

How it worked

To provide added traceability to Network Rail cable, SmartWater traceable liquids were applied to trackside cable within hotspots identified by SmartWater crime analysts. Every SmartWater traceable liquid carries a chemical code that is uniquely registered to an address or location. Once applied the liquid is almost impossible to remove and can only be seen under UV light. Every kilometre of Network Rail’s cable received a different SmartWater forensic code so that stolen cable could be traced back to the nearest kilometre.

To create a deterrent Network Rail, SmartWater and British Transport Police collaborated on innovative tactics to influence criminal behaviour.  This included targeted covert operations against persistent thieves, cutting off the means for thieves to sell on stolen goods by targeting scrap metal dealers, and equipping police stations with the SmartWater detection equipment.  In addition to suppressing incidents of cable theft, this approach also resulted in multiple criminal convictions.

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