Level-crossing chaos in Cheltenham after rail cables slashed
RAIL commuters and motorists in Cheltenham were plunged into chaos yesterday after thieves attempted to steal cable from the railway line, disrupting signals.
Officers from the British Transport Police were called out in the early hours of the morning to find six cables had been cut on the track near Arle Road.
It meant level crossings in Arle Road and Swindon Lane were down throughout the busy morning rush hour, causing long traffic queues.
And several train services had to be cancelled, with dozens of others delayed by up to 45 minutes.
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Joe Bailey, 28, who commutes to Cheltenham from Tewkesbury, said: "The traffic was a total disaster and I was really late for work.
"You hear a lot about metal theft these days, but to do it somewhere that would clearly have such serious safety impacts is just stupid.
"I hope the people who did it are caught and given a suitable punishment."
Resident Adam Slaughter was also caught up in the chaos.
"The queue from the T-junction of Swindon Road to Windyridge Road was all the way up to the Co-op in Windyridge Road, and it's normally only four to five cars deep," he said.
"I expect it added a further 20 minutes to everyone's journey."
Trains which were allowed through were reduced to a crawl, with communications operated solely by radio.
Engineers at Network Rail worked throughout the day to repair the problem and restore a full service.
Company spokesman Russell Spink said: "Five or six cables were cut and, although they were not stolen, it looks like the thieves were disturbed in the process of taking them.
"Unfortunately it is a lengthy process repairing the cables but our engineers were working hard to get things up and running as soon as possible.
"Because the signals were down we resorted to old-fashioned methods of getting the trains through. Each one was in touch directly with the ground crews to ensure it passed through safely."
Mr Spink added that cable thefts were a huge problem.
"Cable thefts cost us around £20 million a year," he said.
"But we are doing everything we can to reduce their impact, including improving railway security by running more patrols. Sadly a lot of these thieves know exactly what they are doing and that is the challenge we face."
British Transport Police confirmed they were investigating the theft, which is thought to have taken place at 2am.
A spokesman said: "Officers attended the location and discovered power cable had been cut but not stolen.
"Inquiries, including a forensic examination of the scene, viewing CCTV and carrying out house-to-house visits, are ongoing."
No arrests have been made, but anyone with information about the incident is urged to contact British Transport Police for free on 0800 40 50 40.