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Metro Train Delayed? Don't Rule Out Copper Bandits Stealing Wiring From The Tracks

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In the days of the Old West, bandits robbed trains, most notably to steal gold. In Los Angeles these days, thieves are plundering the actual tracks for a different metal: copper.

Metropolitan Transportation Authority officials say thieves are getting on the tracks and damaging signal and traction power equipment to steal the copper wiring inside. Both of those systems are vital to the powering and movement of Metro trains.

"We literally can't run our trains without such equipment, and repairs can be time consuming and expensive," said Steve Hymon, who writes for Metro's blog The Source.

Hymon noted that the thieves are putting themselves in danger by being on the tracks, which also puts Metro riders and staff at risk.

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These photos, provided by Metro, show the damage caused by people stealing copper wiring from the agency's rail system. (Courtesy L.A. Metro)

The most recent theft happened Dec. 23 on the A Line (formerly the Blue Line), Metro spokesman Dave Sotero said. The crime impacted Metro service that day and on Christmas Eve, when the line was closed between the Compton and Del Amo stations for an "emergency repair of vandalized equipment," Metro reported.

Stealing copper isn't a new crime trend for L.A.; the city has had to contend with it for years, and one of thieves' primary targets has been streetlights. An increase of such thefts in recent years cost an estimated $1 million in maintenance in 2019, according to an NBC4 report.

Metro officials did not say how often these thefts are happening, though Sotero described the crimes as occasional rather than frequent. Policing its nearly 100 miles of tracks has been a challenge for Metro, but the agency says it's stepped up security to better monitor the rail system.

Metro is also improving the way it tracks copper wiring after it's been stolen. Special dyes can be applied to the copper so it can be identified later, according to Sotero, though he declined to elaborate on other tactics.

Law enforcement is also alerting scrap yards that buy copper wiring that "Metro is pursuing thieves and those who enable them," Hymon said.

The agency is now asking for the public's help to deter future thefts. Anyone with information about copper wiring theft or who witnesses Metro equipment being stolen or vandalized is asked to call 888-950-7233.