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California governor committed to prosecuting UP smash-and-grab cargo criminals

Caltrans crews to help Union Pacific clear up debris left on tracks

California elected officials and Union Pacific seek to address cargo theft in Los Angeles County. (Photo: Jim Allen/FreightWaves)

California Gov. Gavin Newsom reiterated Thursday that the state is taking steps to address cargo theft occurring on Union Pacific trains in Los Angeles County.

A spike in thefts recently drew local and national media attention, although the issue has been getting worse over the past year. Slower speeds and longer dwell times as a result of the supply chain congestion have contributed to making intermodal trains an attractive target for theft, FreightWaves previously reported. The thefts involve trespassers climbing onto trains and breaking into cargo containers.

“What has happened on this stretch of the Union Pacific railroad is unacceptable,” Newsom said. “We are committed to an all-of-government approach to prevent thefts, prosecute the criminals involved and clean up local communities.”

Newsom’s announcement was made during an event in Los Angeles, during which the governor, UP (NYSE: UNP) representatives, local officials, law enforcement and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans) conducted a cleanup of UP tracks. Newsom directed Caltrans crews to continue to help UP with the cleanup. 

The California Highway Patrol will continue to coordinate with local law enforcement to help prevent theft on railways in LA, Newsom’s office said.

That assistance is part of a broader Real Public Safety plan that the governor’s office rolled out last month. The plan calls for a permanent smash-and-grab enforcement unit operated by the California Highway Patrol that would work with local law enforcement on organized retail, auto and rail theft in the Bay Area, Sacramento, San Joaquin Valley, LA and San Diego regions.

The plan also calls for an additional $30 million in grants over the next three years to help local district attorneys “effectively and efficiently” prosecute retail, auto and rail theft-related crime.

On UP’s fourth-quarter 2021 earnings call Thursday, President and CEO Lance Fritz said the railroad is planning to put physical security barriers in place, not just for the cargo but also to ensure employees’ safety.

“That is a relatively unique situation where something that used to be a nuisance two years ago [is now] today more organized,” Fritz said, adding that UP is working with local and state issues and “we have our arms around it.”  

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Joanna Marsh

Joanna is a Washington, DC-based writer covering the freight railroad industry. She has worked for Argus Media as a contributing reporter for Argus Rail Business and as a market reporter for Argus Coal Daily.