23 June 2010

Copper Kettle

Everything I dislike about travelling by train came back to me this morning. The train was late in, but then it stopped outside Iver and then a short distance further on, for a total of nearly an hour. Signalling problems, the train manager vouchsafed.

This afternoon, while most of the country is engrossed in world cup football, the following arrived by email from the train operator:

Dear Sir or Madam:

Due to the theft of signalling cable at West Drayton, an extremely limited train service is able to operate between London Paddington and Reading.
Network Rail?s Engineering Team are working as hard as possible to resolve this issue, but due to the amount of cable removed, disruption is likely to continue until 2200 this evening.

If you are planning on travelling today, we strongly advise that you check www.firstgreatwestern.co.uk for further information.
Whilst we will make every effort to operate the advertised train service, we do strongly recommend that you leave extra time for your journey.
We apologise for any potential disruption to your journey.
I am particularly interested in the implied suggestion that rail travel might be an optional luxury, that customers might be simply making plans rather than relying on them actually running trains. Still, it's not exactly the train operator's fault that thieves have taken the cable, any more than it was BT's fault when half our village lost telecommunications when a substantial length of cable went missing. It's not even possible to suggest that security was lax, because it must be nigh-on impossible to guard every attractive piece of scrap metal in the country: the lead from church roofs, if any remains, is also attractive to the particular strain of scrap metal merchant who imagine that they are at liberty to enrich themselves at the expense of everyone trying to live an honest life.

Would fibre optic technology provide a complete answer? Certainly, you can't simply take up the copper cable and put in fibre, but once the switch is made perhaps there'd be nothing worth stealing. I suppose the copper is all being sold on and eventually, thoroughly laundered, arriving in China, where much of it is probably incorporated in consumer goods and shipped back, basically, to those from whom it was stolen in the first place.

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