BREAKING: 4.2 Miles of Copper Wire Stolen from LINK

Photo by the Author

At a 2:30 press conference today at Tukwila Int’l Blvd Station, Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray and Chief of Police Ron Griffin announced the discovery that approximately 4.2 miles and 70,000 pounds of copper wire has been stolen from within LINK’s hollow elevated guideway.  With the exception of the stations themselves, all of the wire between Rainier Beach and SeaTac Airport has been stolen.   The copper wire sections – roughly an inch in diameter – function to isolate stray current that might otherwise be absorbed by the structure, slowly weakening it over a period of decades.  At current copper prices, the theft is valued well over $200,000.

Photo by the Author

Gray and Griffin were understandably unwilling to discuss the details of ingress points that allowed the thieves to access the guideway, but they did say that upon successful access there would have been no way to know that anyone was within the structure.  Gray stressed that there are no operational safety concerns related to the theft, and that the wire was strictly for the purposes of reducing stress on the concrete and rebar, thus extending the useful life of the structure. Sound Transit expects to replace the copper within 2-3 months.

Sound Transit is seeking the public’s help with any information that might lead to the discovery and arrest of the thieves. Anyone with information is encouraged to call the King County Sheriff’s office (206) 296-3311.

Comments

  1. Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

    approximately 4.2 miles and 70,000 pounds of copper wire has been stolen from within LINK’s hollow elevated guideway

    I’m guessing they didn’t pull that off in one night.

    • Stephen says

      That’s pretty ballsy when you think about it. I wonder how they even got it w/o anyone noticing time and time again.

      • Ben Du says

        Maybe the contractor wanted to save money so the copper wire was never installed in the first place??

      • Patrickn says

        Just a guess, but I’m guessing by dressing as maintenance workers. Overalls and an orange vest will get you a lot of time poking around infrastructure without further questions.

      • Bernie says

        I’m pretty sure ST would have caught the wire not being there during inspections before payment. If they didn’t why would they suddenly figure out it’s not there. This almost has to be an inside job.

      • says

        @Ben Du: As I understand it, the Edens Expressway in Chicago had to be rebuilt a few years ago, some years before its design life ended, because the mob-linked company that built it the previous time didn’t build it to spec and pocketed the difference.

      • Nathanael says

        It’s astounding what people will let you get away with if you “look like” you belong.

        It seems like the best way to stop this sort of metal theft is at the sale side: most of it has to go through scrap dealers, so requiring tracking of sellers at scrap dealers might help.

    • Brian says

      My thought exactly… I can’t imagine there’s not a camera in that 4.2 miles.

      • Nathanael says

        Putting the wire inside the hollow space underneath the tracks… well, would you have thought to put CCTV there?

  2. Matt the Engineer says

    We need to find a way to keep this from happening again. I propose filling the space with poisonous snakes, Indiana Jones style.

    • Jory says

      I agree Matt! Or have some ‘stray’ current flowing through the copper. :)
      Not enough to nullify the reason for the copper to begin with. Just enough to make anyone who touches this, to think twice before doing it again.

      Who the heck would even know that all that copper is there? Maybe an inside job? :(

      • Daniel says

        Probably a better idea would be to mount an ammeter to measure the small amount of electrical current the cable is designed to carry. If the current abruptly drops (i.e. when the wire is cut), send someone to investigate.

  3. shotsix says

    Do recycling places take things with no questions asked? It seems like the recycling place should be held liable, if they can figure out which one took it. Plus, who other than an ‘insider’ would even have the faintest idea that there was copper wiring inside the guideways.

    • Eric says

      RCW 19.290 (http://apps.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=19.290&full=true) sets requirements for metal scrap recycling. The recycling business is required to keep records of each transaction, including name, address, phone number, and license plate of each person selling scrap metal. Also, all transactions over $30 in value must be paid by check, mailed to the address given in the transaction, no sooner than 10 days after the metal is delivered.

      • Matt the Engineer says

        Good news that we have this. But what do you be there are states without such requiements? I’m guessing there’s U-Haul that left the state weeks or months ago, loaded down with copper.

      • Brett says

        Uhmm, I don’t think U-Haul rents trucks that can carry 70,000 pounds of payload. That would probably take 5-10 U-Hauls. But you’re probably right about it leaving the state.

      • Lack Thereof says

        Weight-wise, you could easily split that between 4 or 5 overloaded box trucks. I doubt anyone willing to take a quarter million dollars worth of metal out of public infrastructure would have qualms about exceeding the weight limit on a rental truck.

        The difficulty I imagine is simply the logistics of transporting long lengths of this cable. It’s too thick and heavy to just throw a pile of it in the back of a truck, and hauling cable from one end of the guideway to the other is not a job for a man on foot.

        They probably spooled the stuff back up, just detached it and started reeling it in from one end. Then they probably would have needed forklifts to move/load the spools. Not exactly subtle work. And then once it was spooled and loaded, they probably would have gone ahead and sold it off as cable somewhere far away, rather than the lower price they’d get as scrap copper.

    • Sherwin Lee says

      When I first heard this, I thought: “70,000 lbs?! There’s no way any recycler isn’t going to raise an eyebrow!” Then, I remembered that the thieves probably thought the same thing.

      It pains me to say it, but that copper is gone. If it was stolen over several months, it’s more than likely the crooks sold it off piecemeal to multiple recyclers.

  4. RobertSeattle says

    What do these crooks do when they show up at the cooper recycling places with this stuff? “Found in on the side of the road”? Do the places that buy copper have any responsibility to check the source?

  5. Jory says

    Time to bring back the time honored tradition to Draw and Quarter criminals! Or maybe hacking convicted criminals’ hand off.

    I have absolutely no patience or tolerance for anyone who would do something like this. They are stealing from the public!

    I hope that if they catch who did it, they will be dealt with harshly.

    And for that matter, any recycle center that accepts this stuff, should be shut down. Even if they are non-profit. By accepting this stuff, they are encouraging this kind of behavior.

    • Cinesea says

      The thieves need some electric current going through THEIR bodies…as in electric chair!

  6. Bernie says

    Gray and Griffin were understandably unwilling to discuss the details of ingress points that allowed the thieves to access the guideway, but they did say that upon successful access there would have been no way to know that anyone was within the structure.

    I guess we’re lucky they were only interested in stealing the copper and not planting a bomb.

    • Matt the Engineer says

      Meh. You don’t need to be inside the structure for that – along any post will work fine. But same with a countless other places in the city.

      Besides, if you believe Norman, there’s never anyone on Link anyway. “Bomb drops light rail train from sky. One killed.”

      • Bernie says

        Except piling 70,000 pounds of explosives next to a post your not hidden from view. But I guess as long as they sweep the trains at Westlake, no worries.

  7. says

    Really makes me wonder how often maintenance workers walk the tracks or how closely they observe the structure. Time for randomly placed cameras, me thinks. And, new maintenance personnel.

    • says

      That was my thought!

      I would have assumed there were cameras already placed at each station, and on the trains in front and back (to record accidents and whatnot) and also along the lines themselves.

      If not, then why not!!

    • Matt the Engineer says

      Nominated for most boring ST job: guy hired to watch the utility space cameras.

      • Bernie says

        Given that they probably don’t light the utility space and it would cost a lot to do so simple motion detectors would do the job. Alarms on the entrance doors wouldn’t be to hard to do.

  8. Daniel says

    And here I was telling my friends there was no organized crime in Seattle. (Facepalm)

    • Charles says

      huh? Seriously? I mean compared to my former city of Chicago, it’s pretty tame around here, but devoid of crime it’s not. There are even Russian and Asian gangs on the east side and the usual suspects here in Seattle.

    • says

      A guy I knew in California told me most of the car theft in Seattle is a pretty sophisticated organized-crime operation. I also read a story about a mob-linked strip club a few years ago. So it’s definitely around.

  9. mic says

    No, don’t replace it.
    That way, they’ll have to go for the overhead catenary wire next time.
    Ha ha.

  10. Warren Wilson says

    That’s bull. The contractors never put it in. Think about it. How do you get 10lb per yard wire from off the track above I-5?! If they cut it up into 7000 yard-long pieces it would have taken months. Did they hook up a big spooling winch somewhere? Someone would have seen something…

    • Brett says

      It is pretty tough to believe they managed to get 35 tons of wire out of that structure. If they were doing it by hand, and they were lifting 70 pounds at a time, that is 1000 trips in and out of it. I guess it depends on how many access points there are and how many people were working on it. Maybe they did come up with a mechanical way of doing it…

      • mic says

        I’d look for tire tracks of a little two wheel, low geared, motorbike, leading to where you could park an open top trailer next to the guideway.
        Cut the cable into manageable piece, haul them along the ped walkway, to a capstan mounted on the truck to reel it in.
        There a little Sherlock Holmes in all of us.

    • Bruce Nourish says

      Doesn’t it seem like they would have considered that possibility before calling the cops, and that the cops would have considered it before letting ST splash this in the news? Do you think ST signed off on a construction contract without even looking at the finished product?

      • Bernie says

        Absolutely right. The inspection process turned up sub standard steel used. I’m not a big fan of ST but they do do a good job of inspection and making sure all of the gold copper plated construction is done to spec.

  11. GuyOnBeaconHill says

    There’s a local urban legend that when Metro pulled down the old trolley wire in about 1972, all of that copper went missing too.

    • mic says

      I heard it was buried in some Metro drivers backyard on Beacon Hill. Time to start digging into this.

  12. Chris Stefan says

    I’m guessing someone who had inside knowledge was involved with the theft. They had to know the copper was there in the first place and where the access points were. It doesn’t have to be a ST employee, even a laborer who worked for a sub-contractor might have seen enough to plan this.

    One problem with putting any kind of sensors or cameras on the access points or in the hollow part of the guideway is there needs to be some way for them to communicate with the rest of the world. It can be done, but it will cost money to install and maintain.

  13. W. K. Lis says

    The same thieves may also break and enter abandoned houses and buildings and start to strip the interior of copper electrical wiring and pipes. They would say they are demolishing their own houses and just disposing of the recyclable materials. They could probably mix up the contents with those copper wires.

    In fact, some so-called legitimate demolition companies could be mixing illegitimate material with their legitimate materials.

  14. Buster says

    As others have pointed out, why was there not a simple continuity test on that very important cable? Rail systems have continuity tests all over the place, its how standard railroad signaling and sensing works.

    Don’t jump to the government published answer(of what happended) right away. Think with an open mind. Government tends to lie a lot.

    There are a number of plausible answers about this “theft”, to include that the original contractor never installed it. And now, an “insurance settlement” is sought as a “way out”.

    Yesterday, the Deputy CEO of sound transit announced her departure with a letter of resignation after only 2 years of employment.

    Just coincidence? Government would tell us , yes its all just coincidence.

    If the system had been a monorail design, it would have cost 1/3 the price, with 1/3 the build time.

    The tunnels to the U district are done, and line with concrete.

    Now the light rail experts of sound transit tell the public, it will take 4 more years to lay track and put in wires. 2016 is the date they set for operations. Go read their published build schedule.

    • Bernie says

      As others have pointed out, why was there not a simple continuity test

      I think the reason is because this is cable was essentially one long grounding bar. It’s purpose was to collect stray current and carry it to ground. Not possible to send a current when the whole wire is a dead short.

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