Copper thieves target RTD tracks despite the metal’s falling price

Matt Whittaker

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Copper wires.Flavio~ / Flickr

By Matt Whittaker / NewsBreak Denver

(Denver, Colo.) Falling copper prices aren’t deterring thieves from targeting Regional Transportation District rails for the red metal often sold as illicit scrap, disrupting commuters and causing thousands of dollars in damage.

Early Wednesday morning, thieves stole wire from a light rail right of way along the W Line in Denver, resulting in a power loss that disrupted services for about two hours, RTD spokesman Brandon Figliolino said. The Denver Police Department is the investigating agency.

The incident brings to 17 the number of wire thefts from the RTD rail system in the last two months, he said.

Wire containing copper is used to conduct electricity to power trains and signals. It is widely used in automobiles, appliances and buildings. The metal is also commonly used to make pipes. 

Copper’s price rises and falls with expectations for economic activity. Prices hit a record above $5 per pound earlier this year as the global recovery from the pandemic boosted expectations. 

But fears of an economic downturn have increased amid the Federal Reserve’s campaign to combat inflation by raising interest rates, resulting in copper prices falling below $3.50.

Still, it seems like that’s incentive enough for thieves who target copper to sell as scrap to metal recyclers.

The recent spate of thefts, which mostly occurred at night along almost all RTD rail corridors, led to thousands of dollars in repairs and multiple service disruptions, Colorado Public Radio reported.

“It's significantly hampering our ability to provide the quality of service that we'd like,” Dave Jensen, RTD’s assistant general manager for rail operations, told the news outlet.

In addition to railroads, criminals also take copper from electrical substations, cellular towers, telephone land lines, water wells, construction sites and vacant homes, the Federal Bureau of Investigation said in a 2008 report. 

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Matt Whittaker writes about natural resources industries, including oil and gas, mining, renewable energy, agriculture and cannabis. He's been based in the Denver metro area since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter @mattswhittaker.

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