High-speed (AVE) rail services in the Spanish autonomous community of Catalonia came to a halt this morning due to a cable fibre theft.
More than 20 trains were stopped, affecting around 9,000 passengers travelling to Madrid and the French border, as well as other locations.
The first service to be halted was between the cities of Barcelona and Girona.
The theft is suspected to have happened last night, between the station of Vilafranca del Penedès (Barcelona) and the French border, local media reported.
Renfe passenger department head in Catalonia Félix Martín was quoted by El Pais as saying: "The entire perimeter of the track is fenced in and will be part of the police investigation to determine the circumstances of the theft."
Passengers are being offered other modes of transport, and an alternative communication route is said to have been activated at 10.15am local time in an attempt to restart the train service.
Renfe said in a statement that the train service between Vilafranca and Figueres Vilafant (Girona) on the Madrid-Barcelona line has been restored and will gradually return to normal.
"Travellers between Figueres, Girona and Barcelona moved into trains on the conventional line, while a bus service was established between Barcelona and Perpignan for travellers to international destinations," it added.
The operator has provided an option for the travellers to cancel their journeys and receive a refund within three months.
Theft of cable fibre is a major issue being raised by European rail operators, who are seeking an EU-wide response to tackle the menace. The cables supply electricity to locomotives.
According to the European network of railway police forces, Rail Pol, operators are resorting to helicopter patrols and covering infrastructure with artificial DNA paint to track the offenders.
The UK’s NetworkRail says that metal thefts cost the operator £19m a year. In Greece, cable theft cost amounted to €12m in recent years, while in Germany the cost to the nation’s rail operator grew by 50% from 2010 to 2011.
Image: High-speed train at Camp de Tarragona in Catalonia, Spain. Photo: courtesy of JPVL at Ferropedia.