NTSB calls out ‘shortcoming in safety culture’ at Minnesota’s largest railroad
Federal investigators are concerned about the safety culture at Minnesota’s largest railroad, according to a recent report on a deadly derailment.
The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) concluded this summer that poor track conditions caused an Amtrak train to derail in Montana two years ago. The track is owned by Burlington Northern Santa Fe.
The NTSB is also currently investigating another BNSF derailment last March that forced a small town in southwest Minnesota to evacuate.
The new report out of Montana also found BNSF has a “shortcoming in its safety culture.”
Three people died and dozens were injured when eight cars jumped the rails in September 2021. The accident is now being blamed on misaligned and poorly maintained tracks.
The 72-page report by the NTSB also found that the track inspector worked “excessive hours” and “most likely… did not have time” for a thorough, so-called walking inspection that may have prevented the tragedy.
BNSF claims it monitors the hours worked by its team members very closely.
But the NTSB said that an organization with a positive safety culture would not allow a safety-critical employee to routinely work more than 12 hours in a day.
Secret Recordings from Minnesota
Track inspectors in Minnesota have voiced similar concerns about the safety culture at BNSF.
One former inspector called it a “a very toxic work environment.”
5 INVESTIGATES obtained conversations secretly recorded by another former inspector who claims he was fired for reporting “too many defects.”
“I have missed so much stuff being the only person here working seven days a week,” Don Sanders said in one of the phone conversations with his former supervisor.
The recordings, first reported by 5 INVESTIGATES, are part of a 2017 lawsuit filed in federal court by Sanders. He claimed the calls showed how he was pressured to keep trains moving at full speed no matter what.
“All I can say is I need your help right now to keep my ass from getting fired,” Sanders’ boss is heard saying on one of the calls.
“I understand,” Sanders replies. “So, in order to keep you from getting fired, I need to just look the other way?”
“No,” his boss said. “We just need to have a conversation.”
Jury Verdicts And Growing Scrutiny
A jury awarded Sanders more than two million dollars. BNSF is currently appealing the decision. The company did not respond to requests for comment. A spokesperson previously said it does not retaliate against employees.
However, a federal jury in Colorado found the company did retaliate against another former track inspector who said his boss instructed him to “falsify reports” and threatened to withhold his paycheck. The jury awarded that employee more than $1 million in 2021.
Railroads have been under growing scrutiny after a series of derailments across the country, including the wreck that released hazardous chemicals in Ohio earlier this year.
State and federal lawmakers are demanding answers about the safety culture at the largest railroads —including BNSF.
The safety concerns are now shared by federal investigators.