Union Pacific kicked off 2022 with some bad news: Its freight trains were being raided on tracks in the Los Angeles neighborhood of Lincoln Heights. Thieves tore open packages, leaving garbage and items they were unable to resell littering the tracks.
Back in January images of packages strewn about train tracks infuriated Americans still desperately struggling through supply chain woes. UP admitted thefts from train cars were up a staggering 160 percent. More than 90 shipping containers were compromised every day thanks to easy to bust locks and a reduction in security staff on the rails. The rail operator said it cleaned up the debris at least once a month, but discarded packages and boxes stacked up faster than it could remove them.
To combat the thefts LA police formed a special task force, which executed over 700 arrests and 49 search warrants in its crackdown of train thefts, according to the LA Times:
In the months-long operation aimed at curbing rail theft across Los Angeles County, a task force has made more than 700 arrests and recovered millions of dollars in stolen goods, including designer handbags, power tools and a pair of empty coffins, authorities said.
“This needed a dedicated series, and it also needed police resources outside of just LAPD, California Highway Patrol, the Sheriff’s Department, law enforcement agencies,” Los Angeles Police Chief Michel Moore said at an afternoon news conference. “People’s willingness to buy something at a discount and seeking that out is fueling the greed of receivers to go find individuals who’ll go out and who’ll commit burglaries.”
I’m just trying to imagine a group of thieves tottering off with not one, but two coffins. Also, very nice of the LA Police Chief to blame folks who unwittingly purchased the stolen goods while looking for a good deal as the cause of these thefts. That’s a whole new ballpark for victim blaming.
While some suspects were working alone, police charged 22 suspects with burglary, cargo theft and receiving stolen property as part of two different train robbery rings, according to the Hill. The two organized theft rings used four warehouses to store stolen goods before fencing them out of state. Police also found illicit drugs and assault weapons stored along with the stolen goods.
While UP initially blamed the LA district attorney for the rapid uptick in thefts, the train operator was also running a skeleton crew thanks to cost-saving, profit increasing measures such as reducing staffing. Train operators run their own security on tracks, though they frequently collaborate with law enforcement. UP said in a statement to the Hill that it has increased security at its Los Angeles facilities, both via technological monitoring and increased staffing.
Freight train operators across the industry shrank employment roles during the pandemic, leading to a big boost in profits but also a bevy of underpaid, over-worked union members. All the cost cutting in favor of shareholders over workers is coming home to roost, as freight train unions seem to be heading to a general strike, which could cost the U.S. economy $2 billion a day.