Abandoned communications cables?

As fiber optic lines take over from copper lines (FO can transmit thousands of times the signal capacity of copper cables), what happens to the old lines? is the copper value such that it is worthwhile to dig them up? Or are they just abandoned?
I just had a bright idea-my new company (Archaic communications) will buy up the old cable, and maintain them as backup for when the FO cables get cut. Sound like a plan? incidentally, what happens to abandoned communications cables-are they free to whoever claims them? What about submarine cables?

They remove old cable when it’s no longer to be used. You most certainly can’t collect it, because it is their property.

To maintain underwater cables you need very expensive specialized ships that can find a cable two miles under water, cut it, haul the ends to the surface, splice it, and return it to the seabed. You might need a wee bit of capital to start up this company.

While it is best if old cables are removed, few are and instead are abandoned in place. I say it is best because when you are digging to put in new utilities, existing facilities are marked (with paint on the surface, etc.) so that they can be avoided by the digging crew. When you dig and pull up a cable, it really creates a bit of a panic until you realize that it is an abandoned cable. (It’s even worse when it is a gas line. I’ve been on projects where that has happened too. :eek: )

The reason why most cables are not removed it the same reason it would not pay to salvage them - the huge cost of digging up old wires, working around the other underground utilities and needing to restore the surface. The salvage price of copper wouldn’t even begin to cover the cost. Plus, as has been indicated, the abandoned line technically still belongs to the utility company and is in their easement. If it could be removed economically, the utility company would do so.

In the UK they would be easier to recover these cables, because most are installed in earthenware or plastic ducts, and not directly into the ground. So all you have to do is open up a manhole, chop the cable, attach it to a winch to pull it out of the duct.

Best practice also says that you attach a new draw-wire to the cable so that when the old cable is pulled out, the draw-wire is left in place, ready to install a new cable.

I have no idea why I thought this thread was about undersea cables when I first read it. Please, carry on.

I doubt a small cable is of concern to companies. I have seen them pull old power and large telephone cables out on ground installations. Most of the cables around here were above ground and they took most of them when no longer in use.

Rayne Man, very good point. My comments dealt with direct bury lines instead of lines placed in conduit. If they are in conduit pipe, it is very easy to remove.

And Telemark, while you most certainly could be going insane :), your earlier comment is not an indication of it. The OP did mention about submarine cables at the end. I thought yours was a valid comment.

There is a decomissioned air base nearby where I live and it has many area silos (several across the area). When the silos were emptied in the 70s or something like that the large communication cables that linked them to the base were left in tact, IIRC. I never saw one, but my dad said he saw a chunk that someone had dug up from like 15 feet under (I don’t know if this is exaggerated, but it sure as hell wasn’t just 2 feet down) and it was (again, may have been exaggerated) a few inches in diameter… and when you consider how many miles that one line ran for… as for all the other silos… wow.

But it was apparently not cost effective to remove, as its all still there.

With the soaring price of scrap metal (particularly copper) all that old cable has significant value, and I can’t see it sitting in the ground for long.

Hell, people are willing to try to chop live cables to make a buck or two, so hitching up a SUV to an disused phone trunk and trying to haul it out will look doable to someone :smack:


I’ve done construction work on Air Force bases (I’m prior RED HORSE – better’n the SeaBees by far :smiley: !) which involved trenching for foundations and underground power lines.

It costs too much to locate, trench, and remove existing copper lines–even when you recycle or reuse, and assuming its not an environmental hazard. It’s too much of a hassle, so Uncle $ugardaddy usually just AIP’s them (Abandons In Place). As one of my Comm buddies once told me, theoretically they could be tied back into whatever network as a backup, so long as electrical continuity was still good. But with the way things are going (especially with the nuclear missions), if it ain’t going wireless, it’s going fiber and we’ll just leave the existing stuff underground.

I have been declared the “King of Unintentional Underground Locates.” Yes, crews working for/with me have unintentionally located old comm. lines, de-energized power feeders, and on occasion, energized telephone lines and electrical lines. When a certain Doper’s crews “locate” A) the power feed to the golf course on Ellsworth AFB or B) the functioning phone lines at a major mid-Eastern base, a certain Doper gets a certain reputation. :eek: :smack:

In both cases though, they were improperly marked. On the order of ten feet.

Copper wire that is installed in conduits is generally pulled when it is abandoned, because it is fairly easy to remove. Copper wire that is directly buried is generally abandoned-in-place, because it cost prohibitive to dig it up. It is not possible to pull out direct-bury cable.

If the price of copper ever gets that high, the government would do well to check a few areas at China Lake. After WW2, my father watched them dump trainload after trainload of copper fittings and the like from decommissioned or contract-cancelled ships out in the middle of the desert. I’ve always wondered if the stuff was still there.