The A train disruptions that left thousands of riders stranded Wednesday morning is being blamed on the “massive theft of copper cable” from the tracks near Howard Beach, the MTA said.
About 500 feet of copper wire was stolen from the tracks and power boxes near the Howard Beach Station in Queens on Tuesday night. The wire, estimated to weigh in about eight pounds a foot, could net the robbers $10,000 at the going rate in the New York City area.
“Every railroad has a problem with copper theft occasionally … so it does happen but it’s pretty rare to have this much copper stolen in one haul, and very rare to disrupt service this bad,” said MTA spokesman Adam Lisberg..
More costly, to straphangers at least, was the widespread rush hour delays on the A and C trains, which carry 775,000 riders a day — 100,000 during rush hour. Service was suspended between Rockaway Boulevard and Broad Channel after 11:22 p.m. on Tuesday, after cables were cut and a northbound A train stalled just north of the Howard Beach station. About 150 riders hitched a ride back to Howard Beach only after another A train pulled up behind the stalled one, allowing passengers to walk through.
The A train transports about 40,000 riders back and forth from the Rockaways over a 24 hour period, 37,000 of those during the morning rush.
“Whomever does this thinks it’s a victimless crime, they’re just taking money from the big old MTA,” Lisberg said. “But for the more than 100,000 who had their commute disrupted, especially the 37,000 crammed on a shuttle bus, this is not a victimless crime at all. This is a serious crime for us.”
Transit police were working the case early Wednesday.
Copper wire theft is big business in the U.S. The FBI said in 2008 that copper prices had increased 500 percent since 2001, and organized crime groups were increasingly stealing the metal to resell for scrap. Scrap copper is in demand due to a worldwide increase in infrastructure.
There were 921 insurance claims of metal theft reported in the New York City area from 2011-2013, according to a report by the National Insurance Crime Bureau.
In 2013, 15 Long Island Rail Road employees were convicted of stealing copper wire worth $250,000 over three years. Last year, three more LIRR workers were arrested on charges of stealing copper wire.
Kimberly Lerner, a Nassau County attorney who represented some of the workers, said she didn’t think Tuesday’s copper theft was an inside job.
“There has never been a case to my knowledge they ever defaced MTA property … damaged everything or caused any inconvenience to any passengers.”
Lerner said the copper culprits are likely looking at grand larceny and criminal mischief charges given the information known so far.
Service will be suspended between Broad Channel and Rockaway Boulevard from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. for track repairs.
Up to date transit information is available at http://www.mta.info.