Train robberies have soared by more than seven times this year, the Rail Transport Regulatory Agency (ARTF) has reported, with a sharp spike recorded in the most recently completed quarter.
A total of 510 robberies occurred in the three-month period ending October 31, with Puebla, Veracruz and Guanajuato reporting the highest numbers. The figure is 7.6 times that of the first quarter.
Individual comparisons of the two worst-affected states over the same period reveal even more alarming figures.
Just three train robberies were reported in Puebla in the first quarter but in the third the number soared to 109, a 3,533% spike.
Veracruz also recorded a sharp surge from four robberies in the first quarter to 91 in the third, representing a large yet slightly less dramatic rise of 2,175%.
Guanajuato recorded the next highest in raw numbers with 67 robberies, but the 272% increase on the first quarter is well below the nationally recorded upturn.
Tlaxcala and Querétaro round out the top five, recording 35 and 33 robberies respectively in the most recent quarter. The Tlaxcala figure is up 3,400% because the small state only recorded one robbery in the first three months of 2017.
“It’s important to assess the rise of this phenomenon in Puebla and Veracruz where [the incidence] went from one robbery per month on average to one robbery per day,” ARTF head Benjamín Alemán Castilla said.
The communications manager for Ferromex and Ferrosur — the largest rail operators in Mexico — also weighed in on the issue.
Lourdes Aranda highlighted that the problem had been exacerbated between Puebla and Veracruz because criminals are now using high-caliber weapons such as AK-47s to hold up trains.
She added that the thieves also use women and children as human shields to prevent authorities from responding with force.
Another factor in rising levels of the crime is that authorities have bolstered efforts to crack down on pipeline theft, causing former petroleum thieves known as huachicoleros to turn to robbing trains.
Products such as grain, wine, liquor and processed foods are among the cargo that are most frequently stolen but building supplies and automotive parts have also been targeted by thieves, Aranda said.
A series of robberies in the space of a single weekend in the municipality of Tehuacán, Puebla, in September was described as “the theft of the century” after criminals got away with 1,000 tonnes of grain.
Aranda also warned that robberies could lead to accidents and spillages of substances such as ethylene oxide and chlorine that can damage the surrounding environment and population or even cause explosions.
The train robbery figures for the third quarter took the 2017 total to 1,032 while rail accident numbers also rose in the last quarter with 448 incidents reported, a 13.7% increase on the first quarter.
Source: Milenio (sp)