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Chicago aldermen want railroad to stop gun thefts

This April 2015 photo provided by the U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago shows several guns that were stolen by street gangs from a train stopped in Chicago. Chicago aldermen in neighborhoods near a Norfolk Southern rail yard, where thieves in recent years stole over 100 guns, want new laws aimed at ensuring railways properly secure their yards. | U.S. Attorney's Office in Chicago photo via AP

Chicago aldermen representing high-crime neighborhoods near a Norfolk Southern rail yard, where 150 guns were stolen in three major thefts over a three-year span, are proposing new laws to try to ensure railroads properly secure facilities to prevent such thefts.

Their proposal, which is before the public safety committee and which will later go to the full City Council, cites “the vice grip of gun violence” that led to a 19-year high 762 homicides in 2016. It contends that city “train yards have emerged as a ready source of firearms.”

The three thefts from 2014 to 2016 all occurred at Norfolk Southern’s 69th Street Yard, situated in South Side neighborhoods hard hit by gang-related shootings. The aldermanic initiative is a rare instance of local politicians seeking to pressure a multibillion-dollar corporation over the thefts.

Chicago Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), one of the ordinance co-sponsors, told The Associated Press that the potential deadly consequence of such thefts meant railways must be especially diligent about fortifying yards. She said: “They need to be as secure as the Pentagon.”

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The measures, proposed toward the end of April, mandate that fences around the perimeter of rail yards be well-maintained. They would also impose fines if railroads don’t promptly alert police about gun thefts.

Key sections of fence at the Norfolk Southern yard have been in disrepair and posed little deterrent, while there are no barriers in parts of the yard where trains stand idle overnight.

Containers are unloaded from a rail car in the Norfolk Southern rail yard in Chicago on Feb. 21, 2017. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file photo
Containers are unloaded from a rail car in the Norfolk Southern rail yard in Chicago on Feb. 21, 2017. | Charles Rex Arbogast/AP file photo

In an emailed statement on Tuesday, spokeswoman Susan Terpay said Norfolk Southern has “enhanced security measures at our rail yards in Chicago.” She didn’t provide details. She also said the company “reports any cargo theft to the Chicago police as soon as the theft is confirmed.”

In an April 2015, street-gang thieves slipped easily into the Norfolk Southern yard and made off with over 100 brand new guns that had been en route from New Hampshire’s Sturm, Ruger & Co. weapons maker to the Gunarama Wholesale store in Spokane, Washington.

Based on court filings, the AP reported in March that many of the .45-caliber revolvers, pistol-grip long rifles and other stolen Rugers ended up in the hands of Chicago-area gang and drug dealers. Most of the weapons were never recovered.

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, an Illinois Democrat, later in March sent a letter to Norfolk Southern, saying the rail-yard gun thefts “jeopardize the safety and well-being of Chicago residents.”