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Theft Disrupts Service for Thousands on NYC Subway Line; Metal Thefts Continue to Impact Transit, Say Experts

MTA New York City Transit (NYC Transit) reported a massive theft of copper cable from A line subway tracks in Queens, causing major service disruptions May 27 that affected hundreds of thousands of passengers.

NYC Transit crews were working to rebuild the damaged infrastructure and restore service as Passenger Transport went to press.

“This morning’s service disruption was directly caused by the theft of cable from along the subway right-of-way. This led to delays and crowding along all 31 miles of the A train and forced thousands of Rockaways customers to use shuttle buses to get to work,” said NYC Transit President Carmen Bianco. “We are working closely with the NYPD Transit Bureau to help them investigate this crime and identify the culprits responsible.”

The loss of the subway power cables forced MTA to suspend service on part of the A line and replace it with shuttle buses during the morning rush. The shuttle bus service will continue until full rail operation resumes.
In addition to disrupting service, the crime also trapped trains stored in Rockaway Park and took two terminals used as turnaround sites off line. Some A trains are terminating at the station where the C line usually terminates, forcing a reduction in C service as well.

The A and C lines carry approximately 775,000 customers per day, including 100,000 in the morning rush hour. The majority of these customers experienced delays and/or crowding. The A train carries about 40,000 customers to and from the Rockaways each day, including 3,700 to Manhattan during the morning rush, none of whom were able to use the subways.

According to NYC Transit, the power cable was presumably stolen to be sold as scrap. At least 500 feet of the cable was discovered stolen from roughly 12 locations along the A train tracks near Howard Beach and some signal equipment and track components were damaged as well by electrical current that could not flow through the cable.

A Growing Concern
The theft of copper cable and other metals is increasing, says the Surface Transportation and Public Transportation Information Sharing and Analysis Centers (ST- and PT-ISACs), transportation-sector specific groups of experts who analyze the industry’s information and intelligence needs and disseminate alerts and incident reports to their members and the federal government. APTA is one of five partners in PT-ISAC.

Among other things, PT-ISAC publishes TRIAD, a daily report developed from numerous intelligence sources focusing on counterterrorism, suspicious activity reports and general security awareness.

Infrastructure safety and security expert Frederick Hellwig, program manager, EWA IIT, and director, ST-, PT- and OTRB-ISACs, noted that copper and other metal thefts track with the rise and fall of the national economy. EWA IIT, a company that provides risk management and information security services to several industries including transportation, hosts TRIAD.
“When the economy goes down, copper cable theft goes up,” he said. “We’re reporting on copper wire thefts in TRIAD once or twice a month.”

For example, in an analysis following a Jan. 28, 2015, news report of copper wire theft from a public transit agency in Copenhagen, Denmark, TRIAD stated, “Copper wire theft from railroad infrastructure has had a serious impact on the operations of rail transportation in many locations around the world. Such thefts can have implications for the entire electrical substructure, including lighting, signals, crossing gates and vehicle detection systems. Maintenance departments have difficulty keeping up with the wire theft and the resulting damage has negatively impacted the safety, operational and management capabilities of the transportation entity.”

The analysis reports on several possible deterrents, including improving traceability of stolen cables, using special anti-theft grounding cable, using heat-resistant anti-theft marking systems, increasing lighting and monitoring of areas most prone to theft and working with local law enforcement.

The PT-ISAC website features an array of resources, including recent articles on global trends and new legislation to deter theft. For more about PT-ISAC and TRIAD, click here or contact David Hahn.


NYC Transit employees inspect tracks on the A line disabled by the theft of copper cable. The incident caused massive disruption to hundreds of thousands of passengers. 

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