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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

The Great Suburban Train Robbery

In the town of Nazarevo, 70 kilometers east of Moscow, robbing freight trains has become a normal way of making a living.

At least that is the opinion of Alexander Gvozdev, an official for the Transport Department Police at Kursky railway station, who is frustrated with the increasing incidence of train robberies in the country.

He said in 1993 police had solved only 119 of 854 railway thefts in the Moscow region. Railway theft is a burgeoning problem in Russia, Interior Ministry officials said this week, with cargo valued at more than 60 billion rubles (about $4 million) being stolen last year, mostly by railway employees.

The situation is so bad, Gvozdev said, that he advises individuals and firms not to transport goods by railroad.

"Now it is too dangerous, you run the risk of losing everything," he said in an interview. "I would not send my own things by railroad.

"About 80 percent of all train robberies in the Moscow region take place in Nazarevo, Likino-Dulyovo, Malinovo and other neighboring towns," he said. "Train robberies have become a normal way of life for the local population."

Gvozdev said the robbers have developed sophisticated, well-organized methods for carrying out their thefts.

Often, he said, thieves, wearing special protective clothing and gloves, cut off the electric current when a freight train approaches a town.

Then, after the train grinds to a halt, 50 or 60 people, from children to the elderly, storm the freight cars, he said.

"The four armed guards on each train are unable to do anything because they cannot shoot at old men, children and women," he said. "The seals on the doorlocks of the freight cars are very weak and the attackers tear them away without any difficulty."

Gvozdev added that the whole operation usually takes about 15 minutes and the thieves escape before local police units can arrive on the scene.

"When OMON comes everything has disappeared," he said. "Police just see devastated cars."

Gvozdev also told of a train robbery planned with practically military precision in Chekhov, about 80 kilometers south of Moscow. A gang of about 40 thieves stopped a freight train, locked up the crew in freight cars and proceeded to steal 19,000 sewing machines valued at about 760 million rubles.. The train was idled for several hours, he said, while the robbers loaded the sewing machines into a number of trucks and then drove away.

He said the situation was so bad because of "serious violations" in the schedule of traffic both in the Commonwealth of Independent States states and in the regions and republics of Russia.

"If we knew the exact schedule of railway traffic we would be able somehow to protect freight trains," he said. Trains sometimes run 24 hours late.

Yevgeny Ryabtsev, a spokesman for the Interior Ministry, said the CIS police heads and a representative from Latvia met Wednesday in Ashgabad, the capital of Turkmenistan, to coordinate preventive measures to fight crime and protect frieght trains.

"It is time to protect transportation of cargoes through the territory of the former Soviet Union," he said. Otherwise, robberies will increase even further, he said.