Massive Rise in Thefts from Trains in LA County

When port congestion in Los Angeles and Long Beach was delaying incoming cargoes in the run-up to the holiday season, the customers could at least be sure of getting their goods at some stage. With thieves in Los Angeles County now looting trains and leaving hundreds of empty boxes and opened parcels littering the tracks, many thousands of shipments will never reach their destinations.

Spike in thefts in recent months

U.S. carriers such as UPS, FedEx, Amazon and Target are being hit by the thefts which have exploded in recent months. The problem has escalated as the surge in imports through the Southern Californian ports has resulted in freight sitting idle for weeks on end before ongoing transportation on trains or trucks. The rail containers are naturally locked, but the thieves are using bolt cutters to break the locks. Then they help themselves to the contents of the boxes and parcels before ditching any products that are difficult to carry or re-sell. In December 2021, Union Pacific reported to the L.A. District Attorney that it had experienced a 160% year-on-year increase in theft in L.A. County. In the three months leading up to the holiday season, Union Pacific said that an average of over 90 containers were broken into per day and more than 100 arrests made of “active criminals vandalizing our trains”. One cause of the spike in thefts is believed to be poverty, which has increased during the pandemic. Another is what Union Pacific refers to as the lack of effective deterrents for crimes like theft or trespassing.

Railroad company’s response

Union Pacific is considering rerouting its rail operations to avoid L.A. County, as the rise in thefts is hurting its business. Customers like UPS and FedEx are now diverting their business away from Union Pacific in the hope of avoiding such thefts. Although Union Pacific has its own police department with jurisdiction over its 32,000 miles of tracks and has expanded its security resources to deal with the thefts by increasing the number of agents, drones, fencing and trespass detection systems, the situation hasn’t got any better. In fact, there are reports of another worrying trend – rising incidents of armed robbery and assaults on Union Pacific employees. In a statement that indicates a growing degree of frustration, Union Pacific has called on the L.A. District Attorney to “ensure there are consequences for those who prevent us from safely moving customer goods”.