LOS ANGELES COUNTY, Calif. (KTLA) — Rail thefts have spiked in Los Angeles County, with thieves climbing aboard cargo trains, breaking into containers and stealing packages, railroad company Union Pacific warned Sunday.
Union Pacific said it has seen rail thefts increase by 160% in the county over the past year.
And it’s been more of a problem during the past three months — including through the busy holiday season — when more than 90 containers were compromised on average every day, the company said.
The thefts have left rails littered with debris from packages and merchandise that was meant to arrive at warehouse facilities around the U.S.
On Saturday afternoon, multiple cars of a Union Pacific train derailed in a Lincoln Heights area where packages were left covering the tracks.
While the cause of the derailment remains under investigation, the incident brought more attention to the littered rails.
The railroad mobilized “an aggressive response” to the thefts, with more officers assigned to commonly targeted spots and drones surveilling the tracks, Union Pacific said.
Workers, who have to clean up the tracks, told KTLA the thefts have been happening in broad daylgiht.
“Doesn’t matter what time it is. It could be broad daylight and they just don’t care,” Union Pacific subcontractor Louis Barosas said of the thieves as crews were working at the site of the derailment.
Union Pacific said its agents detained hundreds in connection with the thefts, but fewer than half were booked and some were released in less than 24 hours.
The company sent a letter to L.A. County District Attorney George Gascón, asking for action to deal with “the spiraling crisis of organized and opportunistic criminal rail theft.”
“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 reads.
Union Pacific said those arrested “boast to our officers that charges will be pled down to simple trespassing – which bears no serious consequence.”
The District Attorney’s Office told KTLA in a statement that some cases presented by Union Pacific have been filed, including for burglary and grand theft charges. But others were declined “due to insufficient evidence.”
“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,” the DA’s office said.
As a result of the thefts, Union Pacific said it has seen customers like UPS and FedEx seeking to divert rail business away to other areas, and is now contemplating “serious changes” to its operating plans to avoid L.A. County.
“We do not take this effort lightly, particularly during the supply chain crisis, as this drastic change to our operations will create significant impacts and strains throughout the local, state, and national supply chain systems,” Union Pacific said.