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Infrabel can’t use drones to combat copper thieves

11:32 20/08/2019

Belgian rail infrastructure authority Infrabel has for years complained about the thieves who remove railway cables to sell the lucrative copper in them.

Infrabel decided to try out a new approach to combat and deter cable thieves earlier this summer – surveilling railway lines with drones. The infrastructure authority would use the unmanned aerial vehicles to keep a watchful eye on the extensive network of railway lines that extend across the country.

But Infrabel’s plan to use drones to deter thieves has already ground to a halt. A spokesperson for the company told La Dernière Heure that using the drones would mean breaking the law.

“This summer, we launched at platform at the initiative of the Belgian Civil Aviation Authority and Skyes that allows us to start the conversation on the subject of drones,” the Infrabel spokesperson said. The Belgian Civil Aviation Authority is the government agency responsible for the certification and regulation of civil aviation, while Skyes is the Belgian air traffic control company. “But we’re still waiting for changes to the legislation.”

Belgian drone legislation requires pilots to always have visual contact with the operated drones, which wouldn’t be possible in the case of Infrabel.

According to Infrabel, a little over 300 cable thefts occurred in 2018 – an increase of 300% compared to the preceding year, when just 114 incidents were recorded. The copper thefts delayed train travel by 2 hours and 20 minutes per day.

Photo: Belga / Bas Bogaerts

Written by Linda A. Thompson