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Why freight car attacks are exploding in Los Angeles

Updated: Mar 16, 2023

Dozens of freight cars are broken into every day in Los Angeles by thieves who take advantage of their stop to loot the packages they carry, leaving thousands of stale boxes and internet-bought goods on the tracks that will never reach their destination.

According to the labels found by an AFP team on a track near downtown, easily accessible from nearby streets, most of the major U.S. mail order and courier companies (Amazon, Target, UPS, Fedex, etc.) were affected by these thefts that have exploded in recent months.

Since December 2020, rail operator Union Pacific (UP) has recorded a 160% increase in flights in Los Angeles County. "In October 2021 alone, the increase reaches 356% compared to October 2020," the operator points out in a letter to local authorities sent to AFP.

This explosion of looting is accompanied by an increase in "assaults and armed robberies targeting Union Pacific employees", the letter adds.

The phenomenon was further exacerbated by the peak of activity related to Christmas shopping. According to figures reported by UP, more than 90 containers were vandalized on average each day in Los Angeles County in the last quarter of 2021.

To stem the tide, Union Pacific says it has increased surveillance measures (drones, detection systems, etc.) and hired more police officers to protect its lanes and convoys.

Together with the Los Angeles City and County Police, more than 100 people have been arrested in the last three months of 2021 for "vandalizing" Union Pacific trains.

Union Pacific wrote to the Los Angeles County District Attorney at the end of December to alert him to the situation and to ask him to reconsider the leniency policy he introduced at the end of 2020 for this type of crime.

The operator estimates that the cost of the damage will be approximately $5 million in 2021, "and this amount does not take into account the losses of our customers affected" or the impact on Union Pacific's business and the entire Los Angeles County supply chain.

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