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NewsRailTop Stories

UP wants help combating 160% spike in thefts in LA

Railroad says if criminals aren’t prosecuted it will consider ‘significant changes’ to operations

Union Pacific is pressing local and state officials to help it with a spike of robberies occurring on the railroad’s property in Los Angeles. The thefts involve trespassers climbing onto trains and breaking into cargo containers. 

UP said Sunday that it asked Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón last month to reconsider local prosecution policies so that trespassers are held accountable. 

“Even with these expanded resources and closer partnerships with local law enforcement, we find ourselves coming back to the same results with the Los Angeles County criminal justice system. Criminals are caught and arrested, turned over to local authorities for booking, arraigned before the local courts, charges are reduced to a misdemeanor or petty offense, and the criminal is released after paying a nominal fine,” said the Dec. 20 letter signed by Adrian Guerrero, UP general director-public affairs. 

“These individuals are generally caught and released back onto the streets in less than 24 hours. … In fact, criminals boast to our officers that charges will be pled down to simple trespassing — which bears no serious consequence. Without any judicial deterrence or consequence, it is no surprise that over the past year UP has witnessed the significant increase in criminal rail theft,” Guerrero said.

The situation has gotten so bad that customers such as UPS and FedEx have been “seeking to divert rail business away to other areas in the hope of avoiding the organized and opportunistic criminal theft that has impacted their own business and customers,” Guerrero said.

UP continued in the letter that it was “contemplating serious changes” to its operating plans to avoid Los Angeles County, which the railroad acknowledged could significantly impact local, state and national supply chain systems.

The rail carrier quoted Gascón’s response to its letter as saying, “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. Our office takes Union Pacific’s concerns seriously and hopes to discuss this issue more in the coming weeks.”

UP (NYSE: UNP) has 1,600 employees covering 275 miles of track at nine rail facilities throughout Los Angeles County. 

Besides seeking help to modify policies on criminal penalties, UP said it is partnering and engaging with other elected leaders and government agencies, including the office of California Gov. Gavin Newsom, to curb criminal activity.

For its part, UP has beefed up its security force and is working with local law enforcement, and the railroad has deployed technology such as the use of drones, trespass detection systems and specialized fencing. While these efforts have resulted in hundreds of arrests, UP says that less than half of the trespassers are booked and some are released in less than 24 hours. 

Although local media reports have been relaying a UP cargo theft spike in recent days, the railroad was grappling with container theft in Southern California last fall, FreightWaves reported. 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. 

UP has experienced a more than 160% increase in criminal rail theft in Los Angeles County, according to its December letter. In three months in the fall during intermodal peak season, UP said over 90 containers were compromised per day on average and over 100 arrests were made between local law enforcement and UP. But of those arrests, UP has not been contacted for any court proceedings.

UP estimated in December that criminal activity over the previous 12 months totaled approximately $5 million in claims, losses and damages to UP. 

“That value does not include respective losses to our impacted customers. Nor does it capture the larger operating or commercial impacts to the UP network or supply chain system in Los Angeles County,” Guerrero said.

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Click here for more FreightWaves articles by Joanna Marsh.

The FREIGHTWAVES TOP 500 For-Hire Carriers list includes FedEx (No. 1) and UPS (No. 2).

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.

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