LA train robberies: Worker says Union Pacific is putting ‘profits over safety’

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LA train robberies: Worker says Union Pacific is putting ‘profits over safety’

A Union Pacific (UP) worker said the railroad company is "putting profits over safety manpower labor" and "pointing fingers" after footage of loote

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A Union Pacific (UP) worker said the railroad company is “putting profits over safety manpower labor” and “pointing fingers” after footage of looted containers in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles went viral earlier this month.

The train burglary issue made headlines after photojournalist John Schreiber on Jan. 13 shared footage of train tracks belonging to UP in Lincoln Heights and described “looted packages as far as the eye can see,” including “Amazon packages, UPS boxes, unused Covid tests, fishing lures, epi pens,” he said in a tweet.

UP argued that Democratic LA District Attorney George Gascón’s crime policies were to blame for increasing train robberies, specifically mentioning his Special Directive 20-07. In a December 2021 letter to Gascón, UP stated that the directive allows many misdemeanor cases to be declined or dismissed prior to arraignment unless “factors for considerations” exist. 

“Policy is probably one factor. …You want to handle a criminal accordingly, but don’t just sit there and point fingers,” a UP worker who spoke to Fox News Digital on the condition of anonymity out of fear of losing his job said. “You’ve got less special agents patrolling, securing rail lines and terminals. … So you’ve got crime of opportunity, just like anywhere else.”

“Union Pacific literally defunded the police,” he said, adding that the company has “put profits and shareholders’ best interests over security and safety.”

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In 2018, UP employed 44,531 workers, according to railway news website Railway Age, citing a filing with the Surface Transportation Board. That number decreased by more than 11,700 to 32,820 workers in July 2020. Meanwhile, UP’s net income for 2021 was $6.5 billion — the company’s most profitable year yet.

UP has about 1,600 employees in LA County and its own police department with primary jurisdiction over crimes committed on the railroad, according to its website. The railroad company estimates more than 90 containers are compromised per day. The theft has amounted to more than $5 million in damages to UP alone, which does not include damages to customers or consumers.

Men look over a railing at a Union Pacific railroad site on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

Men look over a railing at a Union Pacific railroad site on Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

“We have brought in dozens of Union Pacific special agents from across our 23-state-network to work in the Los Angeles area, starting last year,” a UP spokesperson said. “We continued to keep that increased presence in LA over the last several months.”

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The spokesperson added that UP has a “positive, longstanding relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department and area law enforcement,” and the company looks “forward to working together to ensure that criminals are brought to justice and held accountable.”

“Recent events have underscored the need for continued partnership with law enforcement, elected officials, customers and companies to address this issue and move forward together,” the spokesperson said.

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón speaks at a press conference, December 8, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón speaks at a press conference, December 8, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by ROBYN BECK/AFP via Getty Images)

Gascón, in a letter to UP last week, said that “according to LAPD Deputy Chief Al Labrada, UP does little to secure or lock trains and has significantly decreased law enforcement staffing. 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.”

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“In 2019, 78 cases were presented for filing. In 2020, 56 cases were presented for filing. And in a sharp decline, in 2021, 47 such cases were presented for filing consideration, and over 55% were filed by my office,” Gascón said in his letter to UP. “The charges filed included both felony and misdemeanor offenses alleging burglary, theft and receiving stolen property.”

Gascón added that out of 20 cases that were declined, 10 “were not filed due to the insufficiency of the evidence presented to prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt, which is our ethical standard to file a criminal case.” The other 10 were not filed because they “involved offenses such as allegations of unhoused individuals within 20 feet of the railroad tracks and simple possession of drugs for personal use — not allegations of burglary, theft or tampering.”

A train stops as shredded boxes and packages are seen at a section of the Union Pacific train tracks in downtown Los Angeles Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

A train stops as shredded boxes and packages are seen at a section of the Union Pacific train tracks in downtown Los Angeles Friday, Jan. 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)

The worker who spoke to Fox News Digital blamed the staff cuts on a relatively new UP initiative called Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR), which was meant to simultaneously streamline railway operations and cut costs.

“They want to lay blame on policy,” the worker said of UP, “but greed has a factor.”

The employee said he doesn’t “like seeing individuals laid off” while the company blames Gascón’s policies for railways thefts. While train robberies in LA may be a combination of both factors, he said, other cities like Chicago experience the same thing.

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“Their trains are just getting burglarized left and right,” he said. 

Train thieves can “rip off” plastic seals on containers or use “bolt cutters” to remove bolted seals, the worker said.

Photos and videos of the railroads in Los Angeles have prompted questions about what officials are doing to combat rail theft and how these thefts are impacting an already-stressed U.S. supply chain. Various members of Congress have sent letters to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking for help in addressing the matter.

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