Trains are being delayed for almost 1,000 hours a year by metal thieves in the West Midlands, it emerged today.
More than 5,300 services were hit as crooks ripped up copper cable from tracks 58 times in 12 months.
The figures emerged after a judge ordered an investigation into the prevalence of the crime.
In the 12 months leading up to April, 167 trains were cancelled and 214 partially-cancelled due to metal thefts in the region. Network Rail was also left with a £1.5 million repair bill. Railway metal thefts have cost £24m nationwide since 2010.
The details were revealed yesterday at Wolverhampton Crown Court, as Recorder Martin Butterworth locked up two teenagers involved in a £67,000 raid for 14 months each.
Network Rail had called for a "deterrent" sentencing of 18-year-olds Shaun Jones and Shaun Plant, who were part of a gang that tore from the track on Ettingshall's Rough Hill bridge. The track carries express trains to and from Birmingham to Wolverhampton. The total bill for repairs and replacing the cable came to £67,000.
Mr Butterworth said: "The value to thieves is relatively small but the cost to the railway companies is disproportionately large and the disruption to the travelling public is enormous."
The haul of Jones and Plant, both of Clarence Street, Upper Gornal, had been cut into smaller sections to make it easier to carry in the theft just before midnight on October 12. Both defendants admitted theft.