French railway company SNCF has become the first customer for specialised cables that incorporate a new anti-theft technology.
The non-removable Core-Tag feature clearly identifies the rightful owner, making stolen cable difficult to sell.
Nexans designed and manufactured the earthing cable, comprising a lead-sheathed copper conductor with a 25mm2 cross-section, for installation in four regions where SNCF maintains the infrastructure for the network owner RFF.
The high resale value of scrap copper makes cable theft a continuing scourge for infrastructure operators all over the world.
When cable is stolen the insulation, which could be used to identify the owner, is often burnt off, just leaving the copper conductor.
In contrast to more complex and expensive tagging techniques such as those using rare earth elements, Nexans’ Core-Tag solution involves installing a coded fire-resistant copper tape that is intertwined in the conductor.
The dot-matrix markings on the coded tape – typically identifying the owner (RFF in this case) – make it easy to trace the origins of the stolen copper when it is brought to a scrap dealer, even after the insulation has been burnt off.
Simple visual examination of the cut cross-section will show the presence of Core-Tag in the cable.
Opening up a length of around 25 cm will then be enough to reveal the identification code.
As the tape is embedded along the length of the conductor, it is virtually impossible for the thief to remove it.
Jean Fehlbaum, vice president marketing infrastructure and industrial projects at Nexans, says the company is working closely with many customers to address the problem of copper theft.
He points out that recycling is a vital element within the copper supply chain, but it is very difficult to establish the origin of recycled metal.
He said: “We believe the Core-Tag technology offers excellent potential to make rail cables less attractive to steal, as well as providing the wider supply chain with new tools to identify stolen copper.”
Nexans is currently talking with various operators in Europe, Africa and Australasia about the technology, which can be used in any industry where cable theft is a problem.
In England and Wales, new legislation came into force on 3 December banning cash transactions for metal at recycling yards.
Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther of British Transport Police welcomed the change, saying it would seriously curtail the market for stolen metal by creating a clear audit trail back to the sellers.
But the measures will not work in isolation, he added.
“Industry, police and other agencies must continue to work together to enforce the new legislation, support further modernisation of the law and take action against those criminals who continue to target the very infrastructure we have all come to rely upon.”