What had once been thought of a problem confined to the rail network is now spreading to the entire transport infrastructure, MPs were told at Westminster.
Norman Baker, the local transport minister, said: “This problem transcends the railway. It has affected motorways, the coastguard and the telecoms industry. The level of theft tends to follow the price of copper and other metals on world markets.”
Recent incidents have seen street lighting cable plundered on major roads, causing sudden blackouts, such as on the A63, which links the M1 and the centre of Leeds in recent weeks.
According to West Yorkshire police cable worth more than £200,000 has been stolen with the outer casing being stripped off and sold on.