Train robberies are something people would expect to see in an old Western movie, but modern day train heists happen every single day.
"It's a big issue," said Ron Greene of Freight Watch International. "Nobody really knows how big of a problem it is, but it's in the hundreds of millions of dollars range," said Greene.
Greene said to forget the box of gold. Today's bandits strike it rich by targeting cargo trains.
"Trains sit idle for long periods of time without any security around them and thieves open up the containers and throw out the cargo to be picked up later," said Greene.
Industry experts say California is a hotspot for train thieves. So is New Jersey, Chicago, Florida, New Mexico and Arizona.
"Arizona is a place where the trains stop, where they switch cars, they move them around and it's just a natural area that's easy to target," said Greene.
Most of the large rail companies have their own police force that quietly handles train heists. This keeps negative publicity to a minimum but also creates a shroud of secrecy around the problem.
CBS 5 Investigates penetrated this clandestine world and found a band of thieves using a secret language and dangerous moves to pull off a highly organized train heist in the desert outside of Los Angeles.
Federal court records show the bandits spend days scouting the train yards. Once on board they hide under the axels of the railcar, and will ride the rail for hundreds of miles until it's safe to unload the merchandise.
"Companies who ship or manufacture high value products such as electronics, computers, high-end retail items have a big issue with cargo theft and they have to mitigate the risk," said Greene.
The way that's done is by marking up the cost consumers pay in the stores.
So while train heists have been happening for more than 150 years, today's modern bandits are picking your pocket - even if you don't ride the rails.
Copyright 2013 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.
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