COPPER sheets worth between £50,000 and £70,000 were stolen from the Severn Valley Railway’s Bridgnorth Boiler Works.
The audacious “pre-planned and highly professional” night-time raid took place on Thursday, January 20.
The gang broke into Bridgnorth boiler shop through an air vent after first disabling a security alarm, and then hot-wired the 30-ton capacity overhead gantry crane, using it to lift 11 5/8th and one-inch gauge copper sheets into a van or lorry which they had reversed into the building.
The copper sheets, of varying sizes up to 10ft by 6ft, weighing an estimated six tons in total, had been cut to size and designated as replacement sections for the fireboxes of several locomotives, including Fowler ‘Jinty’ No.47383 and Stanier 8F No.48773.
The railway is offering a £5,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen copper.
SVR general manager Nick Ralls said: “It’s still sickening – a kick in the guts. This wasn’t an opportunist crime, it was well-planned.
“Just like everyone else in business, though, we’re feeling the pinch of recession, and these are hard times for everyone. We didn’t need this.”
The thieves had made an earlier, unsuccessful attempt to break into the boiler shop just 24 hours before, as a result of which the SVR immediately brought in specialist advisors to take a hard look at existing site security
Undeterred by their failure the thieves returned later that same night, using two ladders – one propped on top of another – to smash the security alarm 16 feet up on the outside wall of the building, and broke down the reinforced air-vent grille to gain access to the works.
The gang also stole a made-up outside steam pipe from another locomotive – Hawksworth 0-6-0PT No.1501 – and even took the chains from the gantry crane.
Scenes of vrime officers from West Mercia Police have been studying scrapes on the wall of the Boiler Shop thought to have been caused by a vehicle, and footprints in the dust on the floor.
The theft, believed to have taken place some time after midnight, was discovered by SVR loco driver and permanent way man Bob Toy at around 7.30am the following Friday morning.
The SVR has now installed new security arrangements at Bridgnorth and at other sites on the railway, and a much-tightened regime of procedures has been put into effect.
Loss adjusters from the Severn Valley Railway’s insurers have been appointed, and it is likely that the railway will be compensated for the full cost of the stolen copper.
Because of a worldwide copper shortage and high demand for recycled copper, Bridgnorth Boiler Contracts Manager Duncan Ballard said he believed the firebox plates were most likely to be sold for scrap - shipped, possibly, to China or America.
“Copper prices are at, or near to, a record high, and heritage railways are being seen as easy targets by scrap metal thieves,” he said.
“We’re only the latest in a long line of railways and railway workshops to be hit. The thieves will be back for sure – but next time we will be ready for them.”
Work flow at the SVR’s Boiler Shop has not been interrupted because the locomotives involved were not currently being worked upon.