Metal worth £13m has been stolen from the railways over the past three years, police have said.
British Transport Police said there were more than 6,000 such incidents between April 2008 and October 2011.
In half of cases, the stolen property involved equipment used for the safe and efficient operating of the network.
British Transport Police deputy chief constable Paul Crowther urged scrap dealers to make it more difficult for thieves to sell stolen goods to them.
The biggest single theft was at Loxdale Street, Bilston, in the West Midlands, in July of last year.
Thieves took 150m of fibre optic cable and 18km of earth bonding cable, each worth £300,000. British Transport Police (BTP) said two men have been charged over the incidents.
Another £300,000 worth of train buffers and components were stolen at Stoke-on-Trent in December 2009.
Overall, Rotherham Central was the worst affected station with 107 separate incidents costing a total of £100,000.
There were 24 fewer incidents at Doncaster but they totalled nearly £200,000, including an £88,000 half-mile stretch of track taken in December 2010.
Other hotspots included Morpeth (77 incidents), Stockingford (69), Knottingly (67), Castleford (66), Hull (63) and Hartlepool (53)
Mr Crowther, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers metal theft working group, said BTP arrested more than 1,000 people in connection with cable thefts last year.
He said: "We are continuing to work with police forces across the country to tackle metal thieves, but this is a crime driven by market forces and the outlet for stolen metal is through scrap metal dealers.
"Our biggest challenge is that criminals can turn up at scrap yards with copper cables and walk away with thousands of pounds in cash, with scrap yards either turning a blind eye to their criminality or taking metal with no questions asked.
"It's easy to convert this stolen property into cash and that's why we continue to focus our attention on dealers."
Infrastructure company Network Rail wants a change in the law to make it more difficult for thieves to sell cable and scrap to dealers.
A spokesman said: "Thieves, particularly those stealing cable, deny passengers the service they rightly expect and, through the massive cost to the industry, deny everyone improvements to rail services as funds have to be diverted from enhancing the railway to tackling crime."
On Sunday, insurer Ecclesiastical revealed that 2011 was the worst on record for the number of claims made by churches for metal theft.