Officials say railroad property theft representative of growing problem

Friday, October 21, 2011 | 1:50 p.m. CDT; updated 4:31 p.m. CDT, Friday, October 21, 2011

COLUMBIA — A Columbia man was arrested at a recycling business Tuesday on suspicion of misdemeanor larceny of railroad property.

Julian Hughes Rowland, 20, had approximately $100 worth of railroad tie plates belonging to COLT Railroad in the back of his automobile, Latisha Stroer, Columbia Police Department public information officer, said. Rowland was arrested at Advantage Metals Recycling, 705 North Proctor Drive.

New individual plates cost about $12 each, Stoer said. 

The plates were not taken from the actual rail bed, David Sprague, Columbia Terminal Railroad operations supervisor, said. They came from a supply cache near the rail line. 

Theft of railroad parts started to pick up about a year ago, Sprague said, and in the last couple of months, the problem has gotten worse. Stroer confirmed that the city is having problems with people stealing railroad metal.

Christian Johanningmeier, power production superintendent for Columbia Water and Light, which owns the railroad, said it is difficult to protect from thievery because the infrastructure goes through the countryside. He said metal stealing occurs from time to time.

"It seems to go in spurts," he said. 

Johanningmeier said he couldn't say whether economic factors correlated with theft trends, "but that would be a good assumption."

Taking materials from the railroad can be dangerous both for the perpetrator and the community, Johanningmeier said. Some people have cut down copper wires, for instance. The wires can carry high voltage, and they are necessary to send signals.

A Missourian article published in September reported a similar rise the theft of catalytic converters from automobiles.

Rowland was released on summons without having to post bond. He has no prior record of theft, according to state court records. He was not an employee of the railroad, Johanningmeier said.

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