Train robberies are out of control in the state of Guanajuato, where some local authorities blame none other than Ferromex, the largest cargo and freight firm in Mexico, for the increase.
On average, 600 trains are robbed every month in the Bajío state, a situation for which the state Attorney General holds Ferromex accountable, because its engineers consistently make unscheduled stops in zones known to be problematic.
“We’ve held meetings with the train companies, asking them to warn authorities before they make any unscheduled stops so as to provide them protection, but at the end of the day the robberies still happen in the same places,” said Carlos Zamarripa.
Unlike Ferromex, rail cargo firm Kansas City Southern sees fewer robberies as it has complied with the recommendations issued by the state government, he said.
Sixty-eight per cent of the robberies are facilitated by thieves forcing the trains to stop by closing brake valves, 30% by obstructing the rails with barricades and 2% when signs or the rails themselves are altered.
The situation is similar in the state of Querétaro, where an attempt by would-be robbers to slow a train early this morning in Tequisquiapan caused the derailment of the locomotive and at least three cars and injured two people.
It was unclear what the robbers were after because the train was carrying scrap metal.
Thieves in Guanajuato favor grains, appliances, construction materials, steel and automotive parts. Most robberies take place in the municipalities of Celaya, Salamanca, Irapuato, Silao, León, Pénjamo, Abasolo, Cortazar and Apaseo el Alto.
In Irapuato, it’s local families who are committing the robberies, which number five every week, according to the police chief.
“It’s not organized crime, but families who are committing the robberies. When a train comes by, the whole family boards it,” explained José de Jesús Félix Servín.
Last weekend, a video posted to social networks showed families, including minors, stealing 30 refrigerators from a train in Salamanca after they broke through the side of a railcar with mallets, picks and axes.
Two months ago, the federal government sent 300 police officers to Guanajuato in an effort to put a stop to pipeline taps and train and highway robberies, but the impact on criminal activity has been negligible.
The municipal administrations of Irapuato and Salamanca believe that preventing train robberies should be a task for the federation, and that local police forces should only provide backup and support.
“Municipal police are not here to take care of pipeline taps or train robberies, they’re here for the people,” said Irapuato Mayor Ricardo Ortíz Gutiérrez.
A Ferromex official said today the robberies continue because thieves can get away with it. Lourdes Aranda said there are train robberies because there is impunity and the stolen goods circulate freely in the street. She said robberies have tripled so far this year.
A state official said yesterday it was a cultural problem. Government Secretary Salvador García López said one way of addressing the issue would be to provide economic opportunities for residents of economically marginalized zones in the state’s industrial corridor.
“It is in large part cultural,” he said, suggesting it was necessary to change the lives of those engaged in the robberies.