The Great Train Robbery: What’s Behind The Rise In LA Train Theft?

It’s ugly out there,’ concluded the Los Angeles Times as it reported on the dramatic increase in train theft around LA County.

Last Saturday, travelers on the Lincoln Heights railroad were greeted by apocalyptic scenes, as blizzards of torn plastic wrappers, cardboard boxes and paper packaging littered the tracks. Scavengers rummaged among the debris, hoping to locate electronics, clothing, or other goods left behind by the robbers.

The Los Angeles Times observes, “Thieves are pilfering railroad cars in a crime that harks back to the days of horseback-riding bandits, but is fuelled by a host of modern realities, including the rise of e-commerce and Southern California’s role as a hub for the movement of goods.

A lack of criminal prosecution has been blamed for a wave of robberies hitting Los Angeles freight trains.

Joseph Prichard, who lives in Lincoln Heights, says he sees people breaking into the cargo about once a week. "Just in the last couple of months we've noticed several times when people were jumping over the tracks and taking packages right off the train," he states. "They throw it over and there's usually someone else loading it up on a car. Sometimes they open the boxes right there on the sidewalk to see what's inside, take what they want and leave the rest there."

Union Pacific, one of the country's major railroad corporations, says it may avoid operating in Los Angeles County due to an increase in thefts, which it blames on lacklustre criminal prosecution. Although, the containers and trains are secured, they may be accessed. In a letter to the Los Angeles District Attorney last month, Union Pacific stated it had seen a 160 percent rise throughout theft in the county over the previous year.

Approximately 90% of cargo containers are robbed every day, sometimes by well-organised criminal gangs.

According to the corporation, the increase is due to a special decree issued by District Attorney George Gascón in December 2020 that modified how low-level offences are prosecuted. Compounding the problem, for months, as imports flooded through the twin ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, freight have just sat idly for weeks before being transported north or east by trucks and trains. As such, partnered with the low-level offence laws and the poor logistics of train companies, Los Angeles has become a perfect storm for petty crime. In this case, the trains have taken the brunt of the impacts.

Adrian Guerrero, a director of public affairs for Union Pacific, has said “Organized and opportunistic criminal rail theft ... impacts our employees, our customers in the overall supply chain industry.”

According to Guerrero, roughly 90 cargo containers are robbed every day, sometimes by a well-organized group that has halted trains and enlisted the help of locals living on the street to ransack the containers. To combat the thefts, Union Pacific has deployed additional drones, increased security, and recruited the help of the Los Angeles Police Department, California Highway Patrol, and Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.

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