Bipartisan, bicameral effort leads to strengthened deterrents of scrap metal theft

HARRISBURG – A new state law will help improve public safety by making it harder for thieves to sell stolen railway materials and require stronger credentials to be a scrap dealer or recycler in Pennsylvania.

The measure, which was sponsored by Senator David G. Argall (R-29), adds railroad materials to the list of items that may only be sold to a scrap processor or recycler through a commercial entity. Pennsylvania’s scrap material theft prevention law mandates that certain items, such as beer kegs, detached catalytic converters, metallic wire and construction materials, cannot be sold by an individual.

“Without a strong deterrent, it was only a matter of time until thieves created a costly tragedy by stealing train tracks, rail spikes and ties,” Argall said. “Considering the amount of material that is transported on our railways each day, the human and environmental impacts of a derailment could be catastrophic.”

In 2011, thieves in Massachusetts caused a train derailment after stealing hundreds of pounds of train tracks. In recent years, similar incidents throughout the country have been discovered before an accident occurred.

Schuylkill County-based Reading and Northern Railroad told Argall at a town hall meeting that they have been forced to step up security efforts to identify and prevent theft.

The legislation, now Act 79 of 2014, received unanimous support in the Senate and earned overwhelming bipartisan support in the House of Representatives. The bill was amended to include language from a similar proposal introduced by Rep. Tina Davis (D-141).

Rep. Davis’ amendment included several new key tools to combat scrap metal theft across the state. Specifically, Davis’ provision will require scrap processors and recycling facilities to register with the state police, directs the state police to post and maintain a statewide registry of scrap processors and recycling facilities on its website, and gives courts the authority to impound vehicles linked to scrap metal thefts.

“Legitimate dealers and industry officials stepped to the plate and helped mold the safeguards that also will protect them,” Davis said. “The beefed-up legislation would give law enforcement additional tools to clamp down on the brazen thefts of everything from veterans’ cemetery markers to fire hydrants and communications fixtures.”

The bill was signed into law on June 26 and will take effect 60 days from that date.

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