EIGHT Romanian men who travelled from Birmingham to the Cotswolds to steal railway cables are to start prison sentences totally 23 years today.
The eight men, between 19 and 36 years old, were sentenced at Birmingham Crown Court on Tuesday and Wednesday. All of them pleaded guilty to conspiracy to steal railway cable from the network.
The gang had travelled from their homes in the Handsworth and Smethwick in Birmingham to target rural stretches of railway line between Evesham, Moreton-in-Marsh and Worcestershire.
They struck 22 times between 3 November 2011 and 24 May 2012, stealing about 6,000 metres of cable.
Network Rail was forced to pay about £500,000 to replace and repair the cables, including fines incurred to train operators as a result of the disruptions caused.
British Transport Police (BTP) was alerted to the to the problem after Network Rail reported a loss of power to signalling in Chipping Camden on 3 November 2011.
BTP raided five addresses in Handsworth and Smethwick on May 24, and 11 men were arrested in these raids.
Judge Robert Orme said there had been a level of sophistication attached to the thefts, and each had a major impact on the rail network, and passengers whose trains were delayed or cancelled as a result of the crimes.
Patrick Hallgate, Network Rail's route managing director, said: "This sentence sends a strong message to anybody thinking about stealing cable from the railway.
"I cannot over-emphasise just how serious these crimes are. Cable thieves deny passengers the service they rightly expect, and through the massive cost to the industry, deny everyone improvements to rail services."
Detective Inspector Andy Irwin-Porter, who led the BTP investigations, said: "These sentences show that it simply is not worth considering stealing cable from the rail network. Our officers will find you and do everything in our power to bring you to justice, just as we have seen in this hugely complex and demanding case.
"They caused massive disruption to the rail network and cost the industry around £500,000."