An LA Train Robbery Spree Has Union Pacific and Law Enforcement Blaming Each Other

Image Credit: iStock, mixmotive

Sign up for smart news, insights, and analysis on the biggest financial stories of the day.

The spirit of Butch Cassidy and his gang of infamous train robbers has lived on in film, television and literature for over a century. Unfortunately for America’s second largest railway, it’s also having a comeback in the real world.

Union Pacific, the rail giant with a $155 billion market cap, says it has been the victim of a spree of train robberies in Los Angeles for the last 12 months. The company is worried law enforcement isn’t doing enough, while law enforcement blames Union’s own lax security.

One Spicy Retort

The LA tracks that have been frequently targeted by robbers lead to a Union Pacific rail yard that’s an important transit point for Amazon, FedEx and UPS packages before they’re shipped off to sorting facilities. Thieves have taken to breaking into railcars, making off with goods, and leaving boxes strewn across the side of the tracks — a video posted earlier this month provides a dramatic illustration of the problem.

Union Pacific says criminal rail theft in LA has risen 160% since December 2020, and that $5 million worth of its own property has been stolen from its rail lines. Law enforcement and the company have reacted with finger pointing:

  • Union Pacific complained to the City of LA last month that police aren’t monitoring the railways and that prosecutors are letting people arrested in railcars off with misdemeanors.
  • The LA District Attorney shot back that criminal cases involving Union Pacific as a victim have fallen in the last two years from 78 to 47.

“It is very telling that other major railroad operations in the area are not facing the same level of theft at their facilities as UP,” LA DA George Gascó wrote to the company. “My Office is not tasked with keeping your sites secure.”

Blame to Go Around: According to LAPD captain German Hurtado, who spoke to the Wall Street Journal, UP’s private security force has just six officers on patrol between Arizona and the Pacific coast. But LAPD is also short 2,000 officers. California governor Gavin Newsome proposed a $255 million grant to establish a law enforcement unit focused on retail, train, and auto robberies — if it’s approved, maybe both sides will play nice.