Train robbing has become the new normal in Los Angeles County, where four out of five freight containers are reportedly being looted while authorities struggle to come up with a fitting solution.
Freight-hauling railroad company Union Pacific (UP) estimates that it lost $5 million last year due to an escalating number of train robberies.
Photojournalist, John Schreiber of CBS, investigated the site near a section of the Union Pacific train tracks in downtown Los Angeles and found the place littered with thousands of shredded boxes. The packages were from retailers like Amazon, REI, and others.
“Keep hearing of train burglaries in L.A. on the scanner so went to #LincolnHeights to see it all. And… there’s looted packages as far as the eye can see. Amazon packages, @UPS boxes, unused Covid tests, fishing lures, epi pens. Cargo containers left busted open on trains. @CBSLA” Schreiber reported on his Twitter page.
“As you can see, trains frequently slow or stop in this area as they get worked into the @UnionPacific Intermodal facility near Downtown LA. The thieves use this opportunity to break open containers and take what’s inside. I’d say every 4th or 5th rail car had opened containers,” he noted.
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Schreiner also said that Union Pacific cleared the area of tracks about 30 days before, but nothing appears to be able to stem the flood of new discarded boxes that litter the place.
The loss in numbers
According to UP’s senior director of public affairs, Lupe Valdez, thefts targeting its trains have been up 160 percent over the past year. In L.A. County, roughly 90 of UP’s containers have been broken into each day over the last three months.
Train Robberies reached a peak in October last year when the number of lootings rose by a whopping 356 percent compared to the same month in 2020.
By 2021, UP figures that the plunderings have cost approximately $5 million, including damage, losses, and claims.
Measures taken offer little relief
“I have been with Union Pacific for 16 years, and I have never, ever seen this situation to this degree,” Valdez told CBS.
“We are making arrests, but what our officers are seeing on the ground is that people are basically being arrested, there is no bail, they come out the next day and come back to rob our trains,” Valdez added.
The outlet reported that the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) said they don’t respond to reports of a train robbery unless Union Pacific asks them to, which they said rarely happens.
Union Pacific has been beefing up its security measures by hiring its own enforcement patrols and by deploying drones, but to little avail.
LA District Attorney steps in
Union Pacific, last month, sent a letter to the Los Angeles County District Attorney, George Gascón, describing the train robberies as a “spiraling crisis” and begging his bureau to hold offenders liable.
Valdez’ letter to Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón read in part:
“Even with all the arrests made, the no-cash bail policy and extended timeframe for suspects to appear in court is causing re-victimization to UP by these same criminals,” the letter says. “In fact, criminals boast to our officers that charges will be pled down to simple trespassing – which bears no serious consequences.”
The DA’s office replied, stating:
“Our office is committed to working with law enforcement to ensure collective safety across Los Angeles County’s sprawling infrastructure, whether it’s at our ports or on railroad tracks. Some cases presented to our office by Union Pacific have been filed, such as burglary and grand theft, while others have been declined due to insufficient evidence. We make charging decisions based on the evidence. Our office takes Union Pacific’s concerns seriously and hopes to discuss this issue more in the coming weeks.”
The train thefts form a heavy burden on the already compromised supply chains due to strict COVID regulations in the state. It has come to such an extent that UP is considering rerouting its freight trains in order to avoid L.A. County altogether taking delayed delivery times for granted.