Rail inspectors find dangerous defects at Union Pacific

September 11, 2023

Federal rail inspectors said they found an alarming number of defects in locomotives and railcars at Union Pacific’s railyard in western Nebraska, the world’s largest.

Federal Railroad Administrator (FRA) Amit Bose wrote to Union Pacific’s top three executives Friday, warning that the defects found during inspections in July and August at Bailey Yard in North Platte represent a “significant risk to rail safety.”

According to Bose, rail cars were experiencing a 19.93% defect rate while locomotives were experiencing a 72.69% defect rate. Both rates are twice that of the national average. He further asserted that compliance on the Union Pacific network is “poor” and that Union Pacific has been “unwilling or unable to take steps to improve the condition of their equipment.”

The FRA further questioned whether Union Pacific’s recent layoffs of 94 locomotive craft employees and 44 carmen has left the railroad lacking the needed people to complete repairs.

Union Pacific spokesperson Kristen South said Sunday that the layoffs were not a problem for the railroad which has a workforce of more than 30,000 employees. 

“Union Pacific will never compromise on the safety of our employees. Safety is always our first priority, and we are reviewing and will address the concerns raised by the FRA,” South added.

The issue of rail safety has been under the hot lights since a February 3 train derailment of a Norfolk Southern railroad train in East Palestine, Ohio that sparked a fire and a miles-wide toxic chemical spill.

Three months after that disaster, the Senate Commerce Committee voted along bipartisan lines to pass a sweeping bipartisan rail safety bill that would mandate the use of technology that can identify equipment failures, prevent cursory railcar inspections, and ensure that trains carrying explosive material comply with stronger safety regulations.

The Railway Safety Act of 2023 has been introduced in both the Senate and the House but has so far not been taken up by either chamber for a full vote.

At Union Pacific, meanwhile, Jim Vena took over as CEO just last month. The rairoad maintains a network of 32,400 miles (52,000 kilometers) of track in 23 Western states.

PHOTO: Union Pacific locomotive 2016, per Tyler Silvest

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