Hundreds of feet of copper cables were stolen from the A train tracks in Queens, severely stunting the morning rush hour commute Wednesday and constituting one of the more "significant" thefts of its kind, MTA authorities said.
The theft of copper cables is fairly common, and the MTA is trying to fight it using infrared cameras to catch the thieves, according to spokesman Kevin Ortiz. The agency has already purchased cameras and is considering buying more, but Ortiz declined to comment on an exact number.
"This is a prevalent issue that railroads throughout the country are facing," he said, adding the extent of Wednesday's snag in service was less common.
About 500 feet of copper cables were stolen from at least 12 different places along the track near Howard Beach. Signal equipment and track were damaged as well.
The problem was discovered when a northbound A train lost power just beyond the Howard Beach station at about 11:20 p.m. on Tuesday, temporarily stranding about 150 customers, according to the MTA.
Service was finally restored at about 10:30 a.m., Ortiz said, and more permanent repairs are planned for this evening after 10 p.m. A train service will be shut down south of Broad Channel from 10 p.m. Wednesday to 4 a.m. Thursday.
The theft stranded trains that were stored in the Rockaway Park yard and created delays along the entire A and C lines. These trains carry about 100,000 commuters for the morning rush hour, and about 3,700 people from the Rockaways to Manhattan in the mornings, according to the MTA.
Kim Bennett, 40, normally drives from her home in Rockaway Beach to the No. 7 train, which she takes to her job in Times Square. On Wednesday, however, the number of shuttle busses the MTA used to make up for the lack of a train caused traffic to be at a standstill.
Bennett said she tried and failed twice to leave the peninsula before finally being able to drive all the way to work.
"When there is only two lanes leading out, you cannot take all these buses and crowd up one lane. We were at a standstill in Rockaway," she said. "I was very stressed out. It's just terrible."
Bennett, who works for the musical Gigi on Broadway, said she was two hours late on Wednesday. Her fiance, who takes the A train to his job with the Parks Department in Manhattan, luckily didn't have to leave until noon -- and even he experienced delays, she said.
State Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder, who represents Howard Beach, said there should be better safeguards to protect this kind of theft from happening again.
"The fact that people can get into the system and steal is disgraceful," Goldfeder said. "The system needs to be more secure."
Goldfeder added that the gridlock created by the theft and the shuttle buses needed to get people to and from work made an already difficult commute worse.
Typically, copper is stolen from inside the walls of buildings, said Kyle Sexton, a spokesman for the Copper Development Association Inc., a nonprofit industry organization. He said the prevalence of cables stolen from train tracks "is on our radar."
Sexton said the thieves will probably try to sell the wiring to a scrap yard, which can vary in monetary value based on how wide the stolen cables were. The MTA declined to comment on the width or weight of the copper cables stolen.
"More than likely they will be looking to scrap this," Sexton said. "More damage is caused, and repair damage, than the value of scrap that is actually taken."