Copper Theft on German Rail

Metal Thieves in Germany:  Stealing Steel

I just saw this article and figured I’d share, since it relates to a few things I’ve written about recently.    According to the Economist, The Detusche Bahn (German rail system) has been having problems virtually daily with people trying to steal copper wires from tracks, including a recent heist of about 2 kilometers worth of wire.   The thief at the outset of the article was in possession of 24 kilograms of copper (53 pounds), which would yield him somewhere in the neighborhood of 140 Euros or $160US – not exactly a huge payoff.

So the criminals can make a few bucks if they don’t get caught, but the rail line has been hit with costly delays as they have to redirect trains and repair lines – all so a criminal can get a hundred euros or so.  According to the articles, the frequent delays are making a dent in Deutsche Bahn’s already sour reputation with passengers.

There are a lot of things going on in this story:

–  Copper is high in terms of euros due to economic woes in the Eurozone and it reflects general resource scarcity around the world, namely in the developing world where production and consumption is increasing (see:  China’s Rise and Competing For Resources)

– Germany is considered one of the most orderly countries in the Eurozone and certainly the economic powerhouse of the region and even they aren’t immune from economic-related crimes.   Right or wrong, this kind of behavior is expected in the peripheral countries when things start to fall apart.  I was reminded of the “it can’t happen here!” notion in the film Tomorrow When The War Began.

– In addition to the “it can’t happen here!” mentality in the above-mentioned film, I was also reminded of the lengths that people will sometimes go to acquire resources when the chips are down.   I thought of my ex-coworker who I recently wrote about who was  arrested for stealing copper wire (A Few Paychecks Away From Crime?) within a relatively short period after receiving a regular paycheck.  As things start to slip away, it’s likely that we’ll see more people turn to these kinds of activities as the opportunity to make an honest buck (or euro, in this case) become fewer and fewer.

– The actions of the thieves aren’t just directly affecting the rail line, the economic consequences are spread throughout a society that is already struggling to run a tight ship and not face the same kind of disaster that we’re currently seeing in Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain and Portugal. First, Deutsche Bahn is owned by the government so all the taxpayers are taking the hit in the way of extra man hours, replacement parts, drastically reduced efficiency and having to take extra security measures to avoid further difficulties. The cost is passed to passengers/taxpayers. In addition to the costs associated with operating the rail line, many passengers are experiencing delays which often lead to increased costs for the passenger as well as lost productivity. If someone is willing to cause this kind of damage when their chips are down and cause this amount of trouble for a broad swath of society, think about what may happen when a larger segment of society is put in a position where stealing copper wire (or anything, really) sounds like a good option? The potential for economic recovery and “getting the trains to run back on time” can really be hurt when the infrastructure is suffering. Now that I think about it, tough times also have a similar effect on governments and those responsible for operating the things we depend on in our day to day lives. Hell, look at Scranton and the measures they’ve had to take while undergoing financial difficulties.

–  It’s kind of sad state of affairs when someone can think doing something like this is a good idea.  I understand breaking into an abandoned house or a construction site to steal copper or whatever, but you have to be a real asshole to look at some train tracks, see some wires and take them or strip them out of a lived-in house.    The amount of damage caused to the victim for the payout the criminal will get just doesn’t seem to add up.    How could you not look at wire on train tracks and say to yourself “there’s probably no good reason for this to be there”.     It takes a special kind of individual to do something like that.

–  If they wanted to stay legit and still dabble in the copper business, why not try saving copper pennies!

At any rate, the copper theft in Germany is a relatively minor nuisance for society at the moment, but it’s important to think about the factors behind the situation and where it could go from here should things get worse.



  • Only intensive patrolling along the tracks can curb such incidents.

  • Ryan

    Yeah, that’s probably about it although the cost of having people do that would be astronomical. It could be a good excuse for Deutschland to up the number of surveillance cameras on the populace.

  • Pingback: How To Catch Copper Thieves Stealing Copper Wire! | SpyGearCo: Spy and Surveillance

  • The tragic thing is that some people are literally “dying to get their hands on railroad copper.”

    Within a few years some experts believe external electric power for trains will be on the way out—supplanted by hydrail and hydrolleys not so much to avoid theft loss as to cut construction and security costs and to allow intermittent renewables to power trains and streetcars without wires via fuel cell battery hybrid technology.


  • Please pardon the typo in that URL. It should be (see

  • Ryan

    Stan – Thanks for the link. I checked out the page and that’s definitely an exciting prospect. I’m not going to pretend that I understand everything behind hydrail, but I think that we could do a lot more with our rail system and it would be great if we could do it without fossil fuels. I’m in the Midwest and honestly passenger rail isn’t even on most people’s radar here.

    • Ryan,

      I just got back from Germany where at least one project means to power hydrail trains by wind turbines via electrolyzed hydrogen. The Mid-West, with it bountiful winds, would be the idea US area to debut this absolutely carbon-free and renewably-based transportation technology. (Google: schienenflieger)

      Denmark, before the economy crashed, planned a similar wind-H2-train project.

      Look for more and more “free-standing” source-user paired renewable projects that work off-grid. Hydrogen from many other sources is the backup power if an unusual calm occurs.

      If you haven’t seen the USA’s prize hydrail attainment, take a look:

  • Ryan

    Schleswig-Holstein, the rest of North Germany and Denmark are pretty much the world’s leaders in wind technology, right? I’d imagine it gets windy there being right by the sea. Here in Iowa we have a ton of turbines. In fact, in some parts of the state about all you see is cornfields and turbines (I put one picture up that I took here: ). It would be great if we could harness that to power transportation – there’s no shortage of wind in this part of the world.

    Thanks for sharing the train video… I see it’s a couple years old, how has it been coming along?

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