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Freight trains targeted for plunder

China Daily | Updated: 2022-01-17 10:17

People scavenge for items on Friday on railway tracks littered with the remains of items stolen from passing freight trains in Los Angeles, California. GENE BLEVINS/REUTERS

LOS ANGELES, California-Dozens of freight cars are broken into every day on railways in Los Angeles by thieves who take advantage of the trains' stops to loot packages bought online, leaving thousands of gutted boxes and products that never reach their destinations.

Many major US mail order and courier companies such as Amazon, Target, UPS and FedEx are being hit by the thefts, which have exploded in recent months, according to the tags that reporters of Agence France-Presse found on a track near the city center on Friday. The sea of debris left behind included items that the thieves apparently thought were not worth taking.

The thieves wait until the long freight trains are immobilized on the tracks and then climb onto the freight containers, whose locks they break with the help of bolt cutters.

They then help themselves to parcels, ditching any products that are difficult to move or re-sell, or are of too little value, such as COVID-19 test kits, furniture or medications.

The rail company Union Pacific has had a 160 percent rise in the thefts in Los Angeles County since December 2020.

"In October 2021 alone the increase was 356 percent compared with October 2020," Union Pacific said in a letter to local authorities.

The increase in looting has been accompanied by a rise in "assaults and armed robberies of Union Pacific employees performing their duties moving trains", the letter said.

According to company figures, more than 90 containers were vandalized every day on average in Los Angeles County in the last three months of the year.

Combating the trend

To combat the trend, Union Pacific says it has strengthened surveillance measures, including using drones and other detection systems, and recruited more security staff for its tracks and convoys.

Police and security agents arrested more than 100 people in the last three months of the year for "trespassing and vandalizing "Union Pacific trains.

"While criminals are being caught and arrested, charges are reduced to a misdemeanor or petty offense, and the person is back on the streets in less than 24 hours after paying a nominal fine," a spokesman for Union Pacific said. "In fact, criminals boast to our officers that there is no consequence."

Union Pacific wrote to the Los Angeles County attorney's office at the end of last month, asking it to reconsider a leniency policy introduced for such offenses at the end of 2020.

The company estimates that it lost $5 million as a result of such thefts last year, adding that the amount in claims and losses "does not include respective losses to our impacted customers" or the impact on Union Pacific's operations and the entire Los Angeles County supply chain.

Agencies via Xinhua

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