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Railroad says it's taken steps to thwart Chicago gun thieves

Posted May 9

— A leading U.S. railroad says it has implemented new security measures at a Chicago rail yard where thieves in recent years have stolen about 150 guns, most of which The Associated Press found had ended up in the hands of drug dealers and gangs.

Norfolk Southern wrote in a May 4 letter to U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin that among the measures it put in place at its 69th Street Rail Yard as of April 1 are rules requiring better train cargo locks. The Senator's office provided the railroad's letter of response to the AP this week.

The Illinois Democrat had written to the railroad on March 14 in response to an AP report about theft of the guns during three heists from 2014 to 2016 at the South Side rail yard, which he said jeopardized the public's safety. The heists angered residents of the poor neighborhoods that hug the facility, with many complaining that no one seemed to take responsibility for preventing such thefts.

In its letter to Durbin, Norfolk Southern didn't provide details about its infrastructure improvements, including whether it installed better fencing. Key sections of fence at the yard have been in disrepair and posed little deterrent to trespassers.

The letter does specify half-a-dozen new procedures that took effect April 1. They include requirements for stronger locks on train-cargo and for shippers to notify the railroad in advance if they will be shipping guns on its trains.

Locks were an issue in at least one of the thefts. According to court records, street gangs slipped into the Norfolk Southern yard with relative ease in 2015. They used bolt cutters to snap locks off a box car and made off with around 100 new guns that were en route from New Hampshire's Sturm, Ruger & Co. to Gunarama Wholesale in Spokane, Washington.

Durbin said in an email Tuesday that he's hopeful that the new measures will help.

"These are common sense policy changes that, if implemented properly, should prevent widespread theft in the future," he wrote.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at https://twitter.com/mtarm

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