Discarded packages, shredded boxes: Photos renew attention on Los Angeles cargo theft

Reporters this week found packages with labels of many major US mail companies including Amazon, REI among others

Union Pacific train tracks in downtown LA littered with thousands of shredded boxes and packages stolen from cargo containers.

Union Pacific train tracks in downtown LA littered with thousands of shredded boxes and packages stolen from cargo containers. Photograph: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock

Union Pacific train tracks in downtown LA littered with thousands of shredded boxes and packages stolen from cargo containers. Photograph: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock

Newly released photos and videos showing train tracks littered with discarded boxes have cast fresh attention on the theft of packages from cargo containers crossing through Los Angeles in recent months.

On tracks near downtown Los Angeles, a team from Agence-France Presse on Friday found packages with labels of most major US mail order and courier companies. Reporters from CBSLA on Thursday found boxes from retailers including Amazon, REI and others. CBSLA reported that Union Pacific, the railroad company operating the cargo trains, had cleaned up the area of tracks where the boxes were found three months ago and again about 30 days ago.

A Union Pacific freight train navigates tracks littered with shredded boxes and packages stolen from cargo containers that stop to unload in LA.
A Union Pacific freight train navigates tracks littered with shredded boxes and packages stolen from cargo containers that stop to unload in LA. Photograph: Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times/REX/Shutterstock

In a December letter to Los Angeles county district attorney George Gascon, Union Pacific said it had experienced an over 160% increase in criminal rail theft in Los Angeles county since December 2020 and that on average, more than 90 containers were compromised each day. In several months during that period, the increase from the previous year surpassed 200%, according to the company. For the month of October 2021, it estimated the increase to be over 356% compared to the year before.

In the letter, Union Pacific said it has stepped up the number of Union Pacific special agents on patrol, and was exploring the use of tools like drones, specialized fencing and trespass detection systems.

Shredded boxes, packages and debris are strewn along a section of the Union Pacific train tracks in downtown Los Angeles.
Shredded boxes, packages and debris are strewn along a section of the Union Pacific train tracks in downtown Los Angeles. Photograph: Ringo HW Chiu/AP

Luis Rosas, who makes about $20 an hour working for a company subcontracted by Union Pacific to salvage items from the tracks in the Los Angeles area, said thieves use bolt cutters to break the locks on the containers and load up vans or trucks with the stolen merchandise.

Los Angeles has been the site of major shipping woes in recent months as the global supply chain crisis hit the ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach. The ports, which together form America’s busiest shipping complex and serve as a key gateway for imported goods from Asia, have struggled with a significant backlog that’s left dockyards crowded with towering containers and dozens of ships at anchor waiting to unload.

The thieves target trains nearing downtown LA, leaving behind packages and boxes.
The thieves target trains nearing downtown LA, leaving behind packages and boxes. Photograph: Ringo HW Chiu/AP

Thousands of workers have been laboring around the clock for months to move goods into trucks – long lines of which stretch into nearby residential neighborhoods – and trains. The surging volume of merchandise at the ports, which process 40% of container imports in the US, shows no signs of slowing, placing pressure on workers and the residents who live nearby.