Taxpayers are having to fork out millions of pounds to compensate the region’s train operators for the widespread disruption caused by thefts of railway cables.

Thefts and damage to cables in New Pudsey, Shipley and Brighouse, all resulting in delays to trains travelling through Bradford, were among the increasingly-costly catalogue of incidents across Yorkshire in the last 12 months.

It has emerged that public-funded Network Rail, owner of Britain’s rail infrastructure, had to stump up £3.5m in compensation for train operators in Yorkshire and the North East in the past financial year due to delays caused by cable thefts – up £1.7m on the previous 12 months.

Rail passengers are furious about the scale of the disruption and have expressed alarm about the costs.

Now there are fears Network Rail could be forced to cut back on improvements to tracks, stations, signals and level crossings in order to meet the compensation bill.

Network Rail is working on a number of ideas to tackle the thieves, including the use of a new type of cable which has a metal casing, making it more difficult to cut, and a special coating which makes it harder to burn.

Richard Lungmuss, route director for Network Rail, said record levels of train punctuality had been achieved in 2008/09, but added that thousands of passengers in Yorkshire had been “unnecessarily delayed” when thieves brought trains to a halt.

Detective Inspector Brian Buddo, of British Transport Police’s regional cable theft team, said: “This year, to date, we have recorded 367 cable theft offences and have effected more than 115 arrests, detecting 44 crimes. We are continuing to prevent, deter and detect this type of crime.”

Tim Calow, of Aire Valley Rail Users Group, said: “Cable thefts are dangerous and, for the value they are getting, they cause disproportionate disruption. It’s inconveniencing people who want to use the railways.