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Head southeast out of Mexico City for about four hours or so and you will come upon the town of Acultzingo.

It is an impoverished, dusty little place nestled up against the rugged peaks of the Sierra Madre. Most inhabitants work the land for a living. They grow corn and avocados and raise cattle and pigs. They also rob trains. Lots of trains. So many, in fact, that Acultzingo (pronounced ah-coolt-ZEEN-go) is not only the train robbery capital of Mexico but, arguably, of the world.

Over the past year alone, there were 521 crimes committed against cargo trains in the town. And a chunk of those incidents bore no resemblance to the run-of-the-mill petty crime seen in the bigger cities of northern Mexico -- vandalizing a train car or stealing railway signs. No, these were massive, choreographed affairs that often started with a low-tech trick that dates back to the days of the Wild West -- piling rocks up high on the tracks -- and involved small armies of thieves who descended on the derailed cars in waves to cart off the loot.



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