Last week, a train in Nevada left the tracks. Pictures show
mangled automobiles on the ground and hanging from the toppled railcars.
Also last week, a train jumped the tracks near Pocatello, ID. Cell phone video shows a large white tanker on its side.
Last month, a derailment shut down I-80. Among the 19 cars that left the tracks, were some carrying hazardous materials, which reportedly spilled from the mangled cars. Some of the train cars that managed to hold on were carrying explosives, officials told 2News.
March, a derailment in Juab County sent 24 cars off the tracks. Nine of
those cars were tankers carrying phosphoric acid, bio diesel, propane
and other non-hazardous materials. To clean up the mess, officials blew
it up sending an amazing fireball into the night-sky.
In recent weeks, Get Gephardt has spoken to five former and current employees of Union Pacific. Each spoke on a condition of anonymity to avoid punishment from the railroad company. Each echoed the same thing: Union Pacific has implemented new practices and procedures that the workers feel are not safe.
Kevin Loftin did agree to be interviewed on camera–-in fact he flew from San Antonio to Salt Lake City for the opportunity.
Lofton is a former employee of Union Pacific where he worked as a carman for 20 years. He is now a national union representative for what are called “carmen.”
It’s the job of carmen to inspect every single car that comes into a train yard to make sure it’s safe. It’s an important job and it has been wildly cut back, Lofton says.
“Even more than the economic downturn of 2008 and 2009, not as many people were furloughed and laid off,” he said.
The layoffs have certainly helped Union Pacific’s bottom line. The company’s stock price has been rocketing up since it implemented a policy which is called ‘Precision Scheduled Railroading (PSR).’ The policies have led to longer trains, fewer workers and quicker turnarounds.
The policies are saving the railroad money at the cost of public safety, our sources say.
Loftan has a particularly cynical view of the PSR.
“Just taking employees out of the equation, boosting the bottom dollar for corporate greed purposes,” he says. “I don’t believe it is the number one priority.”
Train employees tell Get Gephardt they face tremendous pressure to inspect cars fast and keep trains moving.
One carman says the amount of time carmen are given to inspect rail cars has been cut in half at the Ogden rail yard. Carmen now get less than 90 seconds per car.
“They want them to run just as fast and quick down that rail as they can,” Loften says. “It’s not safe. They need to get [products] delivered, we get all that, but they want to take all the safety, get people like us out of the way.”
PSR is also getting national attention. Last month, rail workers and their union reps were in Washington, D.C. taking their concerns to Congress.
“This push for longer trains with fewer crews has reached a breaking point,” Dennis Pierce, National President of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers, told the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee on Railroads, Pipelines, and Hazardous Materials
That committee hearing also produced an 18-page list of rail workers from several companies describing safety issues they have experienced on the job under the new way of business.
The document states that many incidents have been reported to the Federal Railroad Administration.
Where Union Pacific is concerned, one carman reports “being coerced into not inspecting the freight cars properly in order to meet time constraints or face discipline.”
A mechanic carman reported, “It is just a matter of time before an overlooked defect causes a catastrophe somewhere.”
A Union Pacific machinist reported to congress he is “given an unrealistic time frame to complete federal tasks such as inspections and air brake tests.”
Remember that train they had to blow up in Juab?
are still waiting on an official cause of the derailment, which could
take up to a year, but Get Gephardt’s sources say a wheel was the cause.
The wheel had been flattened on one side. That happens, they say, when
the wheel’s brakes are locked up or sticking, the carmen say.
Union Pacific refused to talk about any of this on camera but in a statement wrote: “Our preliminary investigation into the Juab County derailment’s cause determined a mechanical issue with a car. Inspection routines are being reviewed to determine how we can improve employees’ processes.”
As for the layoffs, Union Pacific says, “Although we are working to move rail cars faster, enabling our customers to better serve their markets, safety is not sacrificed.”
“We’ve been clear [layoffs] would happen,” the spokesperson added.
That much is certainly true. In 2018, Union Pacific’s CEO, Lance Fritz, told Bloomberg news about laying off workers.
“We’re in the process of eliminating about 500 jobs,” he said, later adding, “There’s more of that to come.”
Loftin says laying off the men and women in charge of making sure railcars are safe is dangerous.
“If something was to come loose in this area,” he says walking a rail line in Murray, “where there are homes, businesses, people, it would be catastrophic and unfortunately until something of that nature happens, I don’t know that anything’s going to be done.”
Story by Matt Gephardt and Michelle Poe; Photography and editing by Mike Fessler for kutv.com