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

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Posted by zugmann on Friday, February 16, 2024 2:59 PM

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

True, as long as we remember that. 

  

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

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Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 3:07 PM

zugmann

 

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

 

True, as long as we remember that. 

 

Agreed.

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Posted by Psychot on Friday, February 16, 2024 4:24 PM

Ulrich

 

 
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. 

 

 

Nope, not perfectly understandable. There are cases when people simply don't trust their chain of command, and in that case they're quite right to appeal to a higher authority.

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Posted by Backshop on Friday, February 16, 2024 4:31 PM

I tried editing out stuff and I oopsed it.

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 16, 2024 4:39 PM

wjstix

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.

 

There is nothing in the story that says BNSF told Mr. Sanders that he should just let safety issues slide.  There is also nothing in the story that says he was reprimanded by the BNSF for reporting too many track problems.  Sanders does not say why BNSF fired him.  All that that the story says about that is the Sanders’ phone recordings helped convince a jury that BNSF fired Sanders for reporting a series of track defects. 
 
BNSF also said the they did not fire Sanders in retaliation.  I see nothing that rules out the possibility that BNSF fired Sanders for a legitimate reason.
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Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 4:42 PM

Psychot

 

 
Ulrich

 

 
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. 

 

 

 

 

Nope, not perfectly understandable. There are cases when people simply don't trust their chain of command, and in that case they're quite right to appeal to a higher authority.

 

Like I said earlier.. he and anyone else has every right to speak to anyone.. but there are consequences. And that's true of everyone.. me, you, Sanders.. everyone.

That he was let go seems understandable to me.. no trust between employer and employee... apparently acknowledged by both parties. That's not taking anyone's side.. if there's no trust they're better off parting ways wouldn't you think? 

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Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 4:57 PM

Euclid

 

 
wjstix

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.

 

 

 

There is nothing in the story that says BNSF told Mr. Sanders that he should just let safety issues slide.  There is also nothing in the story that says he was reprimanded by the BNSF for reporting too many track problems.  Sanders does not say why BNSF fired him.  All that that the story says about that is the Sanders’ phone recordings helped convince a jury that BNSF fired Sanders for reporting a series of track defects. 
 
BNSF also said the they did not fire Sanders in retaliation.  I see nothing that rules out the possibility that BNSF fired Sanders for a legitimate reason.
 

Absolutely. They would have been stupid to tell him anything other than "we nolonger require your services" or "we nolonger wish to employ you". Anything else would only serve to encourage litigation. He wasn't let go "for cause".. and he was paid serverence as prescribed by law/whatever his contract called for. It happens and really doesn't reflect poorly on Mr. Sanders. There was no trust, and they parted company. 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Friday, February 16, 2024 8:16 PM

So why such a defense of BNSF management folks?  You apoear to be assuming they are in the right and the track inspection employee and media have some sort of negative agenda. 

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Posted by Ulrich on Friday, February 16, 2024 8:57 PM

charlie hebdo

So why such a defense of BNSF management folks?  You apoear to be assuming they are in the right and the track inspection employee and media have some sort of negative agenda. 

 

Not such a defense of BNSF management folks. Zugman brought up bias in an earlier post, and I do in fact recognize my own biases. I'm biased in favour of the underdog in any given situation, and in this particular situation the people at BNSF, weirdly, are the underdog. Mr. Sanders has had alot of favourable press coverage while BNSF ( and by extension all the folks at all levels who work there) have been cast as the villians. So I'm making some arguments in favour of BNSF and their people. Keep in mind that  I have no vested interest in this thing whatsoever... I don't work for BNSF, don't own the stock, and I'm not a customer. Nor do I know Mr. Sanders. 

Had the press come out swinging against Mr. Sanders I would be making arguments in his favour here.. there are good points in his favour too. I'm pro underdog.. that's my bias. 

I really don't believe the folks at BNSF (including the top brass) are out to hurt anyone.. they're doing their best to run a railroad properly, and I'm sure the decision to let Mr. Sanders go was carefully considered. Nor do I believe Mr. Sanders had any ill intent... he too acted in good faith and meant to do the right thing. Unfortunately in any relationship, where there's no trust, the relationship becomes untenable, and the parties involved need to go their seperate ways. That doesn't diminish either one of the parties.. 

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Posted by BaltACD on Friday, February 16, 2024 8:58 PM

charlie hebdo
So why such a defense of BNSF management folks?  You apoear to be assuming they are in the right and the track inspection employee and media have some sort of negative agenda. 

Top management of any carrier, is going to at least make official policy of following whatever edicts come down from the FRA, NTSB or state regulation agencies.  To do anything else opens the corporation up for serious penalties.

Having said that, I have seen junior levels of management that THOUGHT they could countermand the policy that was coming down the corporate tree.  They do so at their own peril.  Proving variance with regulator policies is very, very hard - especially as a 'Whistle Blower' because data will have to be stolen or manufactured.

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Posted by Euclid on Friday, February 16, 2024 9:48 PM
I don’t see any agenda on the part of Sanders or management, but there is a huge agenda on the part of the news media covering the story.  By far, most of the assertions come from them.  Sanders and management have hardly said anything.  I think there is insufficient information to know the truth about this case. I don’t understand why Sanders would be saying anything about the case with so much riding on a new trial. He may walk away with no monetary award at all. 
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Posted by Psychot on Saturday, February 17, 2024 3:05 AM

Ulrich

 

 
Psychot

 

 
Ulrich

 

 
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. 

 

 

 

 

Nope, not perfectly understandable. There are cases when people simply don't trust their chain of command, and in that case they're quite right to appeal to a higher authority.

 

 

 

Like I said earlier.. he and anyone else has every right to speak to anyone.. but there are consequences. And that's true of everyone.. me, you, Sanders.. everyone.

That he was let go seems understandable to me.. no trust between employer and employee... apparently acknowledged by both parties. That's not taking anyone's side.. if there's no trust they're better off parting ways wouldn't you think? 

 

Sure... but the employee always loses when the parting of ways takes place. Sanders is unemployed, while his supervisors at BNSF keep right on working.

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, February 17, 2024 7:22 AM

Psychot

Sure... but the employee always loses when the parting of ways takes place. Sanders is unemployed, while his supervisors at BNSF keep right on working.

 
What is the solution to that problem?
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Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, February 17, 2024 10:53 AM

Ulrich
I'm pro underdog.. that's my bias.  I really don't believe the folks at BNSF (including the top brass) are out to hurt anyone.. they're doing their best to run a railroad properly, and I'm sure the decision to let Mr. Sanders go was carefully considered.

Sanders was fired yet you don't consider him the underdog against the mighty BNSF?

On what basis are you certain management is doing their best to run a railroad properly when in the corporate world the primary goal is maximum profit.

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Posted by CMStPnP on Saturday, February 17, 2024 6:02 PM

charlie hebdo
On what basis are you certain management is doing their best to run a railroad properly when in the corporate world the primary goal is maximum profit.

Not sure about anyone else but my basis is 800 shares of Berkshire-H stock.Big SmileDevil

On a serious note I used to fly between DFW and KC for work until last year and the BNSF folks on the flight.........always working on their laptops.   Nice people.   Not sure where they were in management though.

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Posted by Euclid on Saturday, February 17, 2024 7:04 PM
There seems to often be disagreement between labor and management in the railroad industry.  So is it common for labor members to go over the heads of management by appealing to the FRA to get disputes settled? I have never heard of that being done before.
 
Usually disputes arise over issues involving compliance with operating rules, and employees in such confrontations are fighting to hold onto their jobs as the company accuses them of not following the rules.  That is almost reversed in this case with Sanders. He seems to be confronting the company over them not following the rules.  That is rules about track quality.  And when management concluded that Sanders had no say in the matter, he reported them to the FRA. 
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Posted by jeffhergert on Saturday, February 17, 2024 8:47 PM

It sounds like BNSF thought he was turning in too many track defects.  Track defects sounds ominous.  Derailments waiting to happen.  But that may not be the case.

They could be relatively minor that only drop speed from 70 mph to 60 mph, but are defects none the less and require fixing.  The video says he called the FRA with a question but doesn't say what the question was.  It may have been to make sure he was interpreting the requirements of the law and he was correct in labeling the defects as such.

Situations like this seem to happen from time to time inregards to defects being reported by MOW, signal or mechanical people.  They all say they want 100% compliance, except when they don't.  Then it's malicious compliance.  

For some reason BNSF has gotten a reputation in the railfan world that they are the best run railroad and can do no wrong.  I feel partly because part of the BNSF is the AT&SF and the reputation it had.  Partly because Warren Buffett had Berkshire Hathaway buy the company because he liked their management.  They did not go full bore PSR to the point that they reduced service to customers, but after Matt Rose retired and Katie Farmer was brought in, they definitely started doing do some PSR practices.  They have even been hauled before the STB with customer complaints.  BNSF is really no different than any other class one in many respects.

Jeff

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Posted by Euclid on Sunday, February 18, 2024 8:30 AM

jeffhergert

It sounds like BNSF thought he was turning in too many track defects.  Track defects sounds ominous.  Derailments waiting to happen.  But that may not be the case.

They could be relatively minor that only drop speed from 70 mph to 60 mph, but are defects none the less and require fixing.  The video says he called the FRA with a question but doesn't say what the question was.  It may have been to make sure he was interpreting the requirements of the law and he was correct in labeling the defects as such.

Situations like this seem to happen from time to time inregards to defects being reported by MOW, signal or mechanical people.  They all say they want 100% compliance, except when they don't.  Then it's malicious compliance.  

For some reason BNSF has gotten a reputation in the railfan world that they are the best run railroad and can do no wrong.  I feel partly because part of the BNSF is the AT&SF and the reputation it had.  Partly because Warren Buffett had Berkshire Hathaway buy the company because he liked their management.  They did not go full bore PSR to the point that they reduced service to customers, but after Matt Rose retired and Katie Farmer was brought in, they definitely started doing do some PSR practices.  They have even been hauled before the STB with customer complaints.  BNSF is really no different than any other class one in many respects.

Jeff

 

Jeff,
 
Thanks for your insight on this. I share your view that Sanders may have been reporting track defects that did not legally demand immediate action to fix.  Mr. Sanders does not clarify that point, but nothing in the report refutes it or even defines the defects Sanders claims to have found and reported without receiving action.  
 

It comes off as Sanders making an extreme stand on the principle that the company cannot be trusted because it is putting profits ahead of safety.  But due to a lack of a specific violation, he relies on a large number of complaints. Also reinforcing this conclusion is the incredible cheerleading for Sanders by the news media interviewing him.  

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Posted by MP104 on Monday, February 19, 2024 4:36 PM

I had a UP track inspector (former supervisor on track welding) show me pictures of BNSF track welding at a diamond (UP-BNSF). A layman could discern it was poorly done. Sure did blow my mind and dropped a notch of the high place I had placed BNSF. endmrw0219241635

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Posted by BaltACD on Monday, February 19, 2024 6:16 PM

MP104
I had a UP track inspector (former supervisor on track welding) show me pictures of BNSF track welding at a diamond (UP-BNSF). A layman could discern it was poorly done. Sure did blow my mind and dropped a notch of the high place I had placed BNSF. endmrw0219241635

There are people that can 'operate' welding equipment and there are welders.  The two are not the same.  A welder will do the whole job with pride and not cut any corners.

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Posted by MP104 on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 11:28 AM

Well said Walt. Me, I'm a "bubble gum" welder. This UP guy was one who was proud of his crew and their work. That's the reason he showed me the poor job. 

BTW: ain't that "Butae" (sp?) weld an awesome example of chemical exothermic reactions?  endmrw0220241128

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Posted by MP104 on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 11:52 AM

As to the main subject (BNSF/Sanders), I was a bus driver while teaching school. We had short, medium, and long routes. Pay did NOT reflect this fact. (Time spent on routes). I asked the supervisor. Sorry Mike, "I'm scared for my job. But go ahead with your request.". Request of Supertendent, NO REPLY. Went to School Board member. Superintendent got in touch w/me. He set up a committee to look at the issue. We produced a pay schedule that reflected for time spent.

BTW: To show the mindset of this superintendent, he got a questionaire from the State EPA. He threw it in the trash. They then scheduled an inspector to visit my chemistry storeroom. All day I filled out MSDS's while a substitute attended to my class. endmrw0220241151

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Posted by Overmod on Tuesday, February 20, 2024 12:58 PM

I had the honor, without knowing it at the time, of sitting down at the dinner table with one of PC's head engineers discussing exothermic rail welding at that state of practice (circa 1975, so just ahead of Conrail).  They noted that they'd gotten practice to where 'only 4 out of every 100 welds failed testing'.  I asked what the testing procedure consisted of, but it didn't involve any sort of NDT that I knew to ask about.

A very, very great deal of careful design and production work goes into designing the 'rail weld kits' and associated equipment to make relatively unskilled trackworkers "good welders" when making exothermic welds in track.  I believe this is also true for those truck-mounted "flash butt weld" machines, which involve their own tension and clamping methods to get the effect of 'neutral temperature" adjustment on typical non-neutral-temperature days.

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