Copper theft costs European train companies millions of euros, and its high prices do not herald its disappearance

Copper theft costs European train companies millions of euros, and its high prices do not herald its disappearance

Europe’s largest railway operators have reported problems with copper theft on their lines, delaying thousands of trains and causing millions of euros in damage to railway infrastructure across Europe.
Copper is the essential component in signal cables, power lines, etc. Without it, trains do not have the power or communications necessary to operate.
One ton of it can be sold to a UK metal recycling facility for around £6,600 (€7,726), according to a report on metal theft by the UK All-Party Parliamentary Group.

The size of the problem

A hunger for copper caused British trains to be delayed by 84,390 minutes in the 2022/2023 financial year, causing a cost of £12.24 million (€14.33 million), according to figures shared by Network Rail UK Limited with Euronews.
In Germany, 450 cases of metal theft occurred on railways operated by the German national company, Deutsche Bahn. This affected 3,200 trains that were delayed by 40,000 minutes, costing Deutsche Bahn seven million euros.
For its part, the French National Railway Company explained in its latest figures for the year 2022 that more than 40,000 trains were affected by metal theft, causing losses exceeding 20 million euros. Belgian railways were subjected to 466 copper thefts in 2022, representing a 300% increase compared to 2021, resulting in 33,000 minutes of delay.
But the scale of the problem is not the same in all countries. In Austria, the railway company OBB recorded single-digit thefts, which did not cause any disruption to train services.
In general, it is true that theft numbers are large, but they have decreased significantly over the past 15 years. According to Deutsche Bahn, it decreased in Germany by about 85%, from 3,200 cases in 2013 to 450 in 2023.
Despite the decline in thefts, railway companies are concerned about the recent rise coinciding with rising copper prices, which show no signs of slowing down.
Analysts from BMI expect metal prices to rise this year and in 2025. This is supported by a recent report issued by an intelligence unit in the Economist Group, which predicted that the price rise will be sharp in 2025.
The reasons for the rise are due to the global shift towards renewable energy and the importance of copper in technologies related to electricity production. According to IEA forecasts, the energy sector will account for 40% of global copper demand over the next two decades.
Copper theft is a crime that costs operating companies millions of euros and passengers thousands of delayed flights. The recent rise in the price of copper does not herald its disappearance anytime soon.


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