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Los Angeles battling the menace of cargo thefts on freight trains

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As businesses leverage the growing supply chain networks to ship boxes across the globe in a blink of an eye, what constantly stresses them is the fear of cargo thefts. 

Dozens of freight containers and trucks carrying online packages are broken into every day by thieves who pounce on any opportunity to access the cargo.  

According to the tags found Friday by an AFP team on Los Angeles’s railways — which was easily accessible from nearby streets — many major US mail order and courier companies such as Amazon, Target, UPS, and FedEx are being hit by the thefts, which have exploded in recent months.

As soon as the long freight trains are immobilized on the tracks, the thieves break into the freight containers and help themselves to parcel leaving behind any products that are difficult to move or re-sell, or are too cheap, such as Covid-19 test kits, furniture, or medications.

Rail operator Union Pacific in Los Angeles since December 2020 has seen a rise of 160% in cargo thefts.   

“In October 2021 alone, the increase was 356% compared to October 2020,” Union Pacific said in a letter to the local authorities, seen by AFP.

The thefts further spiked around the holidays as people went on a shopping spree and more packages moved around the city. 

According to figures reported by Union Pacific, more than 90 containers were vandalized every day on an average in Los Angeles County in the last quarter of 2021.

As per reports, more than 100 people have been arrested in the last three months of 2021. However, due to reduced charges the arrested person is back on street In less than 24 hrs after a nominal fine, a spokesman for the rail operator informed. 

The operator estimates that damages from such thefts in 2021 amounted to some $5 million, adding that the amount in claims and losses “does not include respective losses to our impacted customers” or the impact on Union Pacific’s operations and the entire Los Angeles County supply chain.

Ensuring Shipment Security 

To secure the shipments in the growing and complex supply chains, a multifaceted approach customized to every situation incorporating different strategies at all levels is essential. 

In order to eliminate the vulnerabilities, organizations need to support their supply chain with the help of technology, but that isn’t enough. 

It needs to be backed up by SOPs and regulations at the ground level is to be made. 

The Union Pacific to combat the thefts have not only strengthened its surveillance measures by including drones and other detection systems but also addressed the challenges faced at physical transit by recruiting more security staff for its tracks and convoys.

Union Pacific has also written to the Los Angeles County attorney’s office at the end of December asking them to reconsider a leniency policy introduced at the end of 2020 for such offences.

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