Trains.com

Former BNSF track inspector who secretly recorded boss shares why he took on the railroad

5631 views
52 replies
1 rating 2 rating 3 rating 4 rating 5 rating
  • Member since
    December 2001
  • 1,486 posts
Former BNSF track inspector who secretly recorded boss shares why he took on the railroad
Posted by Victrola1 on Tuesday, February 13, 2024 10:14 PM

"Former BNSF track inspector who said he was fired for reporting too many track defects secretly recorded his boss for "my own protection.""

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ryhw9biKXYc&ab_channel=KSTP5EyewitnessNews

  • Member since
    June 2009
  • From: Dallas, TX
  • 6,821 posts
Posted by CMStPnP on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 7:43 AM

I didn't hear much on the tape but the part I heard the discharged employee was projecting motivations onto the manager which he was not denying.    In a Civil Case that might be enough to pass the "preponderence of the evidence" standard in addition to other circumstansial evidence.    It's not hard to win a civil court case by projecting motivation if you have enough circumstansial evidence.    Though I have no idea what other evidence was presented.    Have a hard time believing a track inspector would really have hard evidence that this was Corporate Direction unless he sat in the meetings held much higher than his position.

So on the tape itself or the part of the tape I heard.......need to see or hear more.

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 13,771 posts
Posted by wjstix on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 9:49 AM

This was a follow-up report to a series of reports done by KSTP, a Twin Cities TV station, regarding BNSF and safety issues. Not sure how many of the earlier reports are available online.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W4tEUfRg1wg

 

Stix
  • Member since
    January 2014
  • 8,148 posts
Posted by Euclid on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 10:41 AM
Apparently the track inspector got into a debate with management about an order to do something or not do it.  In response, the track inspector called the FRA in the hope they would step in and overrule the manager.  This highly provoked the manager who took great issue over the track inspector calling the FRA.  Then the track inspector argued that objecting to his call to the FRA amounted to the railroad manager having a motive to hide something.
 
I see no indication of what the alleged defects consisted of.  Was BNSF violating a law for continuing track operation on track that contained the defects that the track inspection claims to have existed; or was this just track that was less than perfect?  The tone of the news media in this case follows the typical agenda bias of the news media regarding railroad safety.   
  • Member since
    September 2017
  • 5,530 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 10:46 AM

Pretty damning evidence of a toxic corporate culture. Safety and maximum profits are a dangerous oil and water combo.

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 11:07 AM

He had alternatives that didn't involve running to the regulator. He could have contacted his union rep.. he could have gone higher up the ladder at BNSF. I very much doubt that BNSF is purposely trying to run an unsafe railroad. If he felt that his direct superior was not doing the right thing he should have exhausted all avenues for redress internally. Instead he ran to the regulator, and that got him fired. No surprise there. If I'm a waiter in a restaurant and I see some undercooked fish being served, I would speak to the head waiter, and if I got no satisfaction I would go right to the restaurant owner. Chances are the restaurant owner isn't trying to poison his clientele, and the issue would be addressed. Same with the railroad... I doubt the top brass are sitting around the boardroom table dreaming up ways to derail their trains... they're trying to run it properly. 

News report was clearly biased and uninformed as well.. like the one anchor who stated this is going to cost BNSF Bbbb.. millions. 

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 24,924 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 11:31 AM

charlie hebdo
Pretty damning evidence of a toxic corporate culture. Safety and maximum profits are a dangerous oil and water combo.

Railroads and their operations are not monolithic entities.  There is the announced corporate policy and then there are multiple levels of management that take that announced policy and implement it in their own manners upon the individual territories they have responsibility for.  Different levels and jurisdictions of management understand and implement corporate policies in different ways to their subordinates.  As much as Corporate wants its policies implemented equally across the company - it falls to individual managers to implement the policy at the ground level.  Individual managers each hear corporate policy in their own minds - some hear it right and some don't.

I am not aware of any announced corporate policy to violate FRA regulations, I am aware of first level supervisors that think they can do things outside of FRA regulations.  In most cases, those supervisors don't make it to the next level of supervision. 

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

  • Member since
    September 2017
  • 5,530 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Wednesday, February 14, 2024 11:53 AM

BaltACD

 

 
charlie hebdo
Pretty damning evidence of a toxic corporate culture. Safety and maximum profits are a dangerous oil and water combo.

 

Railroads and their operations are not monolithic entities.  There is the announced corporate policy and then there are multiple levels of management that take that announced policy and implement it in their own manners upon the individual territories they have responsibility for.  Different levels and jurisdictions of management understand and implement corporate policies in different ways to their subordinates.  As much as Corporate wants its policies implemented equally across the company - it falls to individual managers to implement the policy at the ground level.  Individual managers each hear corporate policy in their own minds - some hear it right and some don't.

I am not aware of any announced corporate policy to violate FRA regulations, I am aware of first level supervisors that think they can do things outside of FRA regulations.  In most cases, those supervisors don't make it to the next level of supervision. 

 

All true. Corporate climate is not usually a series of policies in writing. It's verbal. 

The enormous increases in car loaded weights with contributory track damage (and minimizing maintenance) and monster train lengths are all part of the goal of maximizing profits by reducing the labor cost centers.  

  • Member since
    January 2014
  • 8,148 posts
Posted by Euclid on Thursday, February 15, 2024 9:48 AM
I conclude that there is no way to understand what happened in this case, based only on Sanders telling his side of the story and the news reporting amplifying his side.  What is totally missing is the side of the BNSF supervisor.  Also missing is the position taken by the FRA, which ought to be highly relevant, but is completely missing.  We all know that the news media always takes a novice position in interpreting any observable rail movement under a passing train as being a safety defect. 
 
But nevertheless, I think it is possible that the supervisor and/or other management may have been cutting corners on legitimate rules compliance.  It is also possible that Mr. Sanders might have been pressing toward a form of what management calls malicious compliance with rules. That principle alone needs some form of definition in order to answer the question of how rules compliance can be malicious.  The term implies that the compliance in question is not necessary, and is only being practiced out of contempt for the rule maker.  Yet rule compliance is either necessary or it is not.  There can be no gray area because that would mean that the rule is subjective.
 

I would say that the job of Sanders was to do the work as required by his supervisors.  Just because the FRA is a higher authority, that does not mean Sanders can take a dispute to them to override the Railroad management, and be immune from receiving discipline from his employer for doing so.     

  • Member since
    September 2017
  • 5,530 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Thursday, February 15, 2024 1:17 PM

The legal (FRA, in this case) rules take precedence over internal management desires. This is true in almost any occupation within a company and true in the military as well 

  • Member since
    July 2016
  • 2,545 posts
Posted by Backshop on Thursday, February 15, 2024 1:32 PM

Euclid
I would say that the job of Sanders was to do the work as required by his supervisors.  Just because the FRA is a higher authority, that does not mean Sanders can take a dispute to them to override the Railroad management, and be immune from receiving discipline from his employer for doing so.     

Going over management's head is the reason that there are whistleblower protection laws.

  • Member since
    December 2001
  • From: Northern New York
  • 24,857 posts
Posted by tree68 on Thursday, February 15, 2024 3:07 PM

Euclid
I would say that the job of Sanders was to do the work as required by his supervisors.

If your supervisor requires you to drive at 25 MPH over the speed limit and ignore stop lights and stop signs, are you going to do it?

The subject in question apparently feels that his supervisors are asking/telling him to ignore the law and/or pertinent regulations.  

 

LarryWhistling
Resident Microferroequinologist (at least at my house) 
Everyone goes home; Safety begins with you
My Opinion. Standard Disclaimers Apply. No Expiration Date
Come ride the rails with me!
There's one thing about humility - the moment you think you've got it, you've lost it...

  • Member since
    May 2003
  • From: US
  • 24,924 posts
Posted by BaltACD on Thursday, February 15, 2024 3:58 PM

What we really have is a personality conflict between a Supervisor and a subordinate.  Nothing more and nothing less.

Both are 'Right Fighters' and it will be messy.

Never too old to have a happy childhood!

              

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Thursday, February 15, 2024 4:02 PM

He also could have filed a grievance with his union instead of reaching out to the FRA. He had several options. What he did was tantamount to calling the cops to resolve a dispute with his wife..it always ends badly. He shat his own bed..

  • Member since
    January 2014
  • 8,148 posts
Posted by Euclid on Thursday, February 15, 2024 4:45 PM
Well it does sound like BNSF did retaliate by firing Sanders for reporting BNSF to the FRA for BNSF refusing to take the advice of Sanders to correct unsafe track. But do we know if the track cited as unsafe by Sanders actually was unsafe?  What if that track was actually not unsafe?
 
What if the BNSF fired Sanders for reporting unsafe track to the FRA when the track was actually fully safe?  If that is what happened, would the BNSF have the right to fire Sanders without that being legal retaliation under whistleblower laws?
  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Thursday, February 15, 2024 5:03 PM

Euclid
Well it does sound like BNSF did retaliate by firing Sanders for reporting BNSF to the FRA for BNSF refusing to take the advice of Sanders to correct unsafe track. But do we know if the track cited as unsafe by Sanders actually was unsafe?  What if that track was actually not unsafe?
 
What if the BNSF fired Sanders for reporting unsafe track to the FRA when the track was actually fully safe?  If that is what happened, would the BNSF have the right to fire Sanders without that being legal retaliation under whistleblower laws?
 

BNSF likely doesn't rely entirely on any one individual to ascertain the condition of any section of track. Like all big companies they have procedures in place that followup on reports of unsafe track, just as airlines have followup procedures on reports of mechanical defects. He wasn't fired for misreporting.. he was fired for running to the FRA. Perfectly understandable. 

 

  • Member since
    January 2002
  • From: Canterlot
  • 9,513 posts
Posted by zugmann on Thursday, February 15, 2024 6:55 PM

Ulrich
He wasn't fired for misreporting.. he was fired for running to the FRA. Perfectly understandable. 

  Is it though?

If you have concerns so you should not be allowed to consult your regulatory agencies?  I think most guys here would be surprised how much we get to deal with the FRA officers.  They visit quite often, and usually are not shy in wanting to know issues or questions (that's kind of their job).   It's not like going to visit some king at the top of a mountain.

  

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer, any other railroad, company, or person.

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Thursday, February 15, 2024 8:16 PM

zugmann

 

 
Ulrich
He wasn't fired for misreporting.. he was fired for running to the FRA. Perfectly understandable. 

 

  Is it though?

If you have concerns so you should not be allowed to consult your regulatory agencies?  I think most guys here would be surprised how much we get to deal with the FRA officers.  They visit quite often, and usually are not shy in wanting to know issues or questions (that's kind of their job).   It's not like going to visit some king at the top of a mountain.

 

Sure, he has every right to talk to whomever he wants to. Just as I have the right to call the cops on my wife. But there are always  consequences. 

I talk to regulators and auditors too during the regular course of my work; however, that's not the same as someone in my employ calling the IRS (for example) to report that I'm skimming on my taxes. That person I'd have a problem with too. 

  • Member since
    July 2016
  • 2,545 posts
Posted by Backshop on Friday, February 16, 2024 7:20 AM

Ulrich

 

 
zugmann

 

 
Ulrich
He wasn't fired for misreporting.. he was fired for running to the FRA. Perfectly understandable. 

 

  Is it though?

If you have concerns so you should not be allowed to consult your regulatory agencies?  I think most guys here would be surprised how much we get to deal with the FRA officers.  They visit quite often, and usually are not shy in wanting to know issues or questions (that's kind of their job).   It's not like going to visit some king at the top of a mountain.

 

 

 

Sure, he has every right to talk to whomever he wants to. Just as I have the right to call the cops on my wife. But there are always  consequences. 

I talk to regulators and auditors too during the regular course of my work; however, that's not the same as someone in my employ calling the IRS (for example) to report that I'm skimming on my taxes. That person I'd have a problem with too. 

 

So it's a bad thing to report somebody for illegal activities?

  • Member since
    January 2014
  • 8,148 posts
Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 16, 2024 8:29 AM

tree68

 

If your supervisor requires you to drive at 25 MPH over the speed limit and ignore stop lights and stop signs, are you going to do it?

The subject in question apparently feels that his supervisors are asking/telling him to ignore the law and/or pertinent regulations.  

 

No, I would not break those laws that you mention above. 
 
But as an analogy for a supervisor ordering an employee to violate the law governing safety, and the employee thus going over the supervisor’s head to a higher authority outside of the company:
 
How do we know that the track safety faults that Mr. Sanders allegedly found and reported were actually true and valid?  What if Mr. Sanders was just imagining a higher level of perfection in track that the law did not require?
 
Perhaps Mr. Sanders was just invoking the rule:  “When in doubt, always take the safer choice.”
  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 10:52 AM

Backshop

 

 
Ulrich

 

 
zugmann

 

 
Ulrich
He wasn't fired for misreporting.. he was fired for running to the FRA. Perfectly understandable. 

 

  Is it though?

If you have concerns so you should not be allowed to consult your regulatory agencies?  I think most guys here would be surprised how much we get to deal with the FRA officers.  They visit quite often, and usually are not shy in wanting to know issues or questions (that's kind of their job).   It's not like going to visit some king at the top of a mountain.

 

 

 

Sure, he has every right to talk to whomever he wants to. Just as I have the right to call the cops on my wife. But there are always  consequences. 

I talk to regulators and auditors too during the regular course of my work; however, that's not the same as someone in my employ calling the IRS (for example) to report that I'm skimming on my taxes. That person I'd have a problem with too. 

 

 

 

So it's a bad thing to report somebody for illegal activities?

 

 

Not at all..never said it was..And what illegal activities? I'm scrupulously honest about my taxes..

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 11:02 AM

Euclid

 

 
tree68

 

If your supervisor requires you to drive at 25 MPH over the speed limit and ignore stop lights and stop signs, are you going to do it?

The subject in question apparently feels that his supervisors are asking/telling him to ignore the law and/or pertinent regulations.  

 

 

 

No, I would not break those laws that you mention above. 
 
But as an analogy for a supervisor ordering an employee to violate the law governing safety, and the employee thus going over the supervisor’s head to a higher authority outside of the company:
 
How do we know that the track safety faults that Mr. Sanders allegedly found and reported were actually true and valid?  What if Mr. Sanders was just imagining a higher level of perfection in track that the law did not require?
 
Perhaps Mr. Sanders was just invoking the rule:  “When in doubt, always take the safer choice.”
 

When in doubt get the opinion of an impartial professional engineer. There are people who live and breathe track structure and integrity...get one of those to have a look. He could have made that recommendation to his superiors or to his union rep but instead chose the route he took. Well...that's most likely what happened anyway although it wasn't reported. Usually commonsense prevails. 

  • Member since
    September 2017
  • 5,530 posts
Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, February 16, 2024 1:33 PM

Ulrich

 

 
zugmann

 

 
Ulrich
He wasn't fired for misreporting.. he was fired for running to the FRA. Perfectly understandable. 

 

  Is it though?

If you have concerns so you should not be allowed to consult your regulatory agencies?  I think most guys here would be surprised how much we get to deal with the FRA officers.  They visit quite often, and usually are not shy in wanting to know issues or questions (that's kind of their job).   It's not like going to visit some king at the top of a mountain.

 

 

 

Sure, he has every right to talk to whomever he wants to. Just as I have the right to call the cops on my wife. But there are always  consequences. 

I talk to regulators and auditors too during the regular course of my work; however, that's not the same as someone in my employ calling the IRS (for example) to report that I'm skimming on my taxes. That person I'd have a problem with too. 

 

Not at all the same.  The so-called whistleblower laws were designed to protect employees reporting unsafe practices from retribution from employers.

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 1:36 PM

charlie hebdo

 

 
Ulrich

 

 
zugmann

 

 
Ulrich
He wasn't fired for misreporting.. he was fired for running to the FRA. Perfectly understandable. 

 

  Is it though?

If you have concerns so you should not be allowed to consult your regulatory agencies?  I think most guys here would be surprised how much we get to deal with the FRA officers.  They visit quite often, and usually are not shy in wanting to know issues or questions (that's kind of their job).   It's not like going to visit some king at the top of a mountain.

 

 

 

Sure, he has every right to talk to whomever he wants to. Just as I have the right to call the cops on my wife. But there are always  consequences. 

I talk to regulators and auditors too during the regular course of my work; however, that's not the same as someone in my employ calling the IRS (for example) to report that I'm skimming on my taxes. That person I'd have a problem with too. 

 

 

 

Not at all the same.  The so-called whistleblower laws were designed to protect employees reporting unsafe practices from retribution from employers.

 

What unsafe practices? 

 

And the whistleblower laws have their limits.. i.e. if I as a railroad employee decide that BNSF operates unsafely, the whistleblower laws don't automatically provide ironclad protection against termination. If that was the case the best way to complete job security would be to make sweeping allegations against one's employer to the nearest government regulator.  There's an entire legal industry built around upholding and challenging whistleblower verdicts. BNSF knows this..

 

 

  • Member since
    February 2002
  • From: Mpls/St.Paul
  • 13,771 posts
Posted by wjstix on Friday, February 16, 2024 2:03 PM

As I understand it, from this and the earlier reports, is that the employee was reprimanded by BNSF for reporting too many track problems to BNSF to be fixed. When BNSF told him that he should just let the safety issues slide, he contacted a government agency to complain and find out his options. BNSF apparently found out about it and fired him.

Stix
  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 2:32 PM

So Sanders was getting in the way of BNSF's desire to run an unsafe railroad.. hmmm... I don't think so. 

  • Member since
    January 2002
  • From: Canterlot
  • 9,513 posts
Posted by zugmann on Friday, February 16, 2024 2:48 PM

Ulrich

So Sanders was getting in the way of BNSF's desire to run an unsafe railroad.. hmmm... I don't think so. 

 

None of us were there - including you.  'm sure the truth is somewhere in between.  Still, I never understood people simping for big corporations.  

  

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer, any other railroad, company, or person.

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 2:52 PM

zugmann

 

 
Ulrich

So Sanders was getting in the way of BNSF's desire to run an unsafe railroad.. hmmm... I don't think so. 

 

 

 

None of us were there - including you.  'm sure the truth is somewhere in between.  Still, I never understood people simping for big corporations.  

 

I'm sure there's more to it than what's reported.. or else it simply makes no sense. Don't have to be there... sometimes commonsense is enough of a guide. 

  • Member since
    January 2002
  • From: Canterlot
  • 9,513 posts
Posted by zugmann on Friday, February 16, 2024 2:54 PM

Or sometimes bias. 

  

The opinions expressed here represent my own and not those of my employer, any other railroad, company, or person.

  • Member since
    February 2003
  • From: Guelph, Ontario
  • 4,785 posts
Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 2:58 PM

zugmann

Or sometimes bias. 

 

 

I have no dog in this fight. We're all biased to some extent. 

Join our Community!

Our community is FREE to join. To participate you must either login or register for an account.

Search the Community

Newsletter Sign-Up

By signing up you may also receive occasional reader surveys and special offers from Trains magazine.Please view our privacy policy