COPPER sheets worth between £50,000 and £70,000 have been stolen from the Severn Valley Railway’s Bridgnorth Boiler Works in a night-time raid.

The gang broke into Bridgnorth boiler shop on Thursday last week through an air vent.

They disabled a security alarm before hot-wiring a 30-ton gantry crane, which they used to lift 11 copper sheets into a vehichle reversed into the building.

The copper sheets, of varying sizes up to 10ft x 6ft and weighing about six tons in total, had been cut to size and designated as replacement sections for the fireboxes of several locomotives.

The railway is offering a £5,000 reward for information leading to the recovery of the stolen copper.

The gang also stole a made-up outside steam pipe from another locomotive and even took the chains from the gantry crane.

The theft, believed to have taken place some time after midnight, was discovered by SVR loco driver and permanent way man Bob Toy at around 7.30am last Friday morning. Following the raid, the SVR moved swiftly to install new security arrangements at Bridgnorth and at other sites on the railway.

Loss adjusters from the Severn Valley Railway’s insurers have been appointed, and it is likely that the railway will be compensated for the full cost of the stolen copper.

SVR general manager Nick Ralls said: “It’s still sickening - a kick in the guts. This wasn’t an opportunist crime, it was well-planned. Just like everyone else in business though, we’re feeling the pinch of recession, and these are hard times for everyone. We didn’t need this.”

Contracts Manager Duncan Ballard said he believed the firebox plates would be shipped to China or America and sold for scrap.

“Copper prices are at, or near to, a record high, and heritage railways are being seen as easy targets by scrap metal thieves” he added. “We’re only the latest in a long line of railways and railway workshops to be hit. The thieves will be back for sure – but next time we will be ready for them.”

Work flow at the SVR’s Boiler Shop has not been interrupted, however because the locomotives involved were not currently being worked upon.