EXTENSIVE work to improve Network Rail’s West Coast Mainline route provided “easy pickings” for a group of employees who decided to steal redundant track for themselves.
A jury at Warwick Crown Court has heard that lorries loaded with tonnes of stolen track were leaving storage yards in Rugby at weekends while the work was taking place.
The stolen track, alleged to have been worth up to £1 million, was then taken to scrap yards to be sold or disposed of elsewhere.
Five men, including employees of rail maintenance firm Jarvis, are on trial at the court after pleading not guilty to stealing railway track from Network Rail in the Rugby area.
They are Michael Quarless, 23, of Wolverhampton; Neil Jones, 41, of Wednesbury; Roy Skinner, 43, of Harwich, Essex; Mark Norman, 36, of Ilkeston, Derbyshire; and George Godkin, 49, of Cambridge.
In addition Godkin has denied conspiring with two other men to steal track in the area of Bury in Lancashire where work on the Manchester Metro line was taking place.
A number of other men have admitted being involved in one or other of the conspiracies between 2005 and 2008.
Prosecutor Malcolm Morse told the jury: “While the work at Rugby and around Manchester was going on, it generated large quantities of redundant rail and railway equipment.
“They decided between themselves that this would be easy pickings which they could turn to profit for themselves by stealing this redundant material before it was taken to its proper destination.”
Particularly around Rugby old track was being taken up and new track being laid between 2005 and 2008 – but the old redundant track “was not thrown out as you or I would throw out an old carpet”.
“It is valuable, and if these five and others could get their hands on it before it was taken to its proper destination they could make a deal for themselves.
“Whatever you think of Network Rail and Jarvis, that cannot give approval to dishonest men who decide to steal from the results of attempts to improve the state of the track.
“It is commonplace in large undertakings such as the Rugby one for the people in charge to seek to recover some contribution to the massive costs involved by selling off the redundant materials.”
So there was a system whereby approved hauliers were used to transport redundant track to certain metal dealers who would pay Network Rail or Jarvis for it, helping to offset some of the costs of the work.
But between them the defendants were involved in “hiving it off” to one of five unauthorised scrap yards, which would then lead to clandestine payments being made to them.
One of those who has pleaded guilty, John Burtenshaw, 51, from Milton Keynes, had an “unenviable reputation” for being “a brown envelope man,” pointed out Mr Morse.
On one occasion in late 2006 a Jarvis manager visited one of the work yards at Rugby and noticed the redundant material had been sorted in “an odd way” which would not have been necessary if it was simply going to be collected by approved haulage contractors TMA or MDS.
Mr Morse told the jury: “Sometimes when TMA or other approved people arrived to collect rail, it was not there.”
The drivers were told they were too late and that the rail they had been meant to collect was by then buried under other material – but had in fact been removed by the defendants using other hauliers.
The trial continues.