Nov. 28 (UPI) -- Widespread ransacking of cargo such as cement, flour and fuel has hampered Cuba's rail system, the country's official newspaper reported.
The thefts have led to damage on railcars and related infrastructure, according to a report by the Cuban official newspaper Granma.
Throughout 2017 and 2018, thieves damaged as many as 403 railcars moving cement to the western part of the country, the report, which was published Tuesday, said. Statistics show each railcar has been damaged 2.7 times, on average, over this period, which has delayed the movement of thousands of tons of merchandise by the Empresa de Ferrocarriles Centro, which is headquartered in Santa Clara.
The newspaper quoted Lazaro Moreno, a railroad company official, who said railroad theft had always occurred in the past but added that theft-related losses and damage have increased in recent years.
The railroad thieves, nicknamed "ninjas" by company officials, now attack railcars that return after cement deliveries, but have some residue. To remove this residue, which can add up to several tons, they use picks that damage the railcars, Moreno said.
Thieves sometimes get on board the train and "disconnect systems so as to stop the running" in areas where others thieves join. In some cases, thieves have attacked train personnel. They have also made off with train stairs, bars, and tubes, he added.
The areas where most theft occurs is in Ciego de Avila, Jatibonico in Sancti Spiritus, and Placetas, Villa Clara.
The need to take railcars out of circulation to repair damage has delayed the transportation of at least 15,000 metric tons of cement as each car can move 60 metric tons, railroad officials said, as reported by Granma.
In addition, there have been attacks against railcars and silos used to move flour to the port of Cienfuegos.
The Empresa de Ferrocarril Centro Este, which covers Ciego de Avila, Camaguey and Las Tunas has also suffered theft, mostly of fuel but also of industrial products, the report added.
Gilberto Baro, in charge of Empresa de Ferrocarril Centro Este said it is plagued by the theft of diesel, sometimes carried out by his employees.
Cuban police have recently detected five cases of workers who were involved in theft and illegal sale of fuel in different areas. The company has tried to use GPS and magnetic prepaid cards to better prevent the theft of diesel, he added.
Raimundo Montero, a railroad company official in Camaguey, said company workers are reminded "every day" about the ways to handle diesel and that every worker knows well what is risked in case of being caught stealing.
Merchandise coming from industrial areas in Cienfuegos and transported to other areas of the country has also been stolen, he said.
Police has helped prevent losses and recently kept thieves from making off with 22 sacks of flour, he said.
The government plans to intensify controls on lines that connect with the Carlos Marx cement plant and the Camilo Cienfuegos oil refinery.
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel visited Russia at the start of the month and during his visit discussed with Russian officials ways to modernize the system, with over 600 miles of railways.