Train robberies soared by 476% between the first and last quarters of 2017, according to data gathered by the Rail Transport Regulatory Agency (ARTF).
In the first three months of last year there were 125 robberies on Mexico’s railroads but during the last three months, the figure spiked to 720.
In other words, the frequency of robberies increased from 10 a week to 60 a week in the space of a single year.
In its latest railroad security report, the ARTF said there were 1,752 train robberies in 2017, with almost half the total occurring in just four states.
Veracruz recorded the highest number with 276, followed by Puebla with 230, Guanajuato with 196 and Querétaro with 122.
In the first quarter of 2018, Mexico’s largest rail operator, Ferromex, filed 204 new criminal complaints with federal authorities for train robberies.
María de Lourdes Aranda, the communications director for Ferromex and Ferrosur, told the newspaper Reforma that the problem is causing serious damage both to the consortium she works for and companies that transport freight on the nation’s railroads.
“It impacts the economy enormously and then a lot of the importers say: I don’t know if I want to do business in Mexico anymore,” she said.
The robbery statistics for the last quarter of 2017 were made up chiefly of freight theft but also included theft of train parts as well as overhead cables and railroad signage.
This week, train robbers in Veracruz even pulled up part of the track to halt a freight train and steal its contents, which included polyethylene.
Aranda explained that due to the risk the theft of such a substance poses, Ferromex is “seriously considering” asking the Secretariat of Communications and Transportation (SCT) to suspend the service of trains transporting hazardous materials.
In the past two weeks, a Ferromex report said there have been three other derailments on the same 20-kilometer stretch of track in the Veracruz-Puebla border region where Tuesday’s incident occurred.
All were caused by track damage that had been intentionally carried out for the purpose of robbing freight from passing trains.
“One of the [derailments] . . . was on a 40 or 50-meter-high bridge, it was a miracle the train didn’t fall,” Aranda said.
She also said that train robbers sometimes damage the track or hold up a train as a diversionary tactic to distract police while criminal associates commit other offenses such as tapping fuel pipelines or robbing trains at another point on the same track.
The Ferromex report said that 44 trains had been damaged or affected by the recent track damage, which it charged had been carried out by criminal gangs in collusion with local residents.
It also said that derailments generated the possibility of explosions, leaks and harmful contamination and that there is also a danger that a train could hit homes adjacent to a damaged track.
For those reasons, Ferromex said, there is a risk that freight services to and from the port of Veracruz will be cancelled.
That eventuality, it said, would “affect the exportation of vehicles, the supply of grains for the food chain and the importation of products destined for Mexico City.”
Source: Reforma (sp)