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Thursday, July 10, 2014

Oil Train Workers Raise Questions About Safety

BNSF Railway, the second largest freight network in the U.S., is at the center of the boom in crude by rail. The railroad touts its commitment to safety. Current and former workers question the safety culture on the ground. (Michael Werner)

BNSF Railway, the second largest freight network in the U.S., is at the center of the boom in crude by rail. The railroad touts its commitment to safety. Current and former workers question the safety culture on the ground. (Michael Werner)

Crude oil shipments by rail increased by more than 80 percent, nationally, last year. Most of it is coming from the Bakken oil fields of North Dakota. That crude is more flammable than other types of oil, and has been shown to catch fire and explode when trains derail.

More than 15 trains of Bakken oil move through some parts of the Northwest each week, en route to refineries and terminals in Washington and Oregon.

Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railway transports the majority of that oil. The company regularly touts its commitment to safety. But an EarthFix investigation reveals some troubling patterns in the way BNSF Railway deals with whistleblowers — particularly those who voice concerns about safety.

From the Here & Now Contributors Network, Ashley Ahearn of KUOW reports.


  • Ashley Ahearn, environment reporter at KUOW and part of the award-winning regional multimedia collaborative project EarthFix. She tweets @aahearn.

Please follow our community rules when engaging in comment discussion on this site.
  • S David H de Lorge

    I know!

    Let’s cut regulations. Let’s reduce regulatory inspectors’ jobs.

  • Rick Bevan

    I was an engineer for Union Pacific for 31 years. There used to be a slogan for UP: “Uphill SLOWN, DOWNHILL FAST
    Tonnage FIRST and SAFETY Last”
    These managers co oercing trainmen to “shortcut” a FEDERALLY MANDATED air brake test is unlawful and punishable of a huge fine. Thee aren’t Rules, It’s the LAW!
    The carriers have used intimidation tactics for years on the employees under the guise of “empowerment” and “Total safety culture; only to find some lame excuse to retaliate against an employee who “blows the Whistle” on unsafe practices. As one of your interviewees said, it’s all about about BONUSES and car counts. AND they cheat on THAT. I don’t know how many times I have been ordered to pull a train past a certain “Control Point” so it would show an on time departure, when the train actually had issues that would delay it. No ON time departure, no BONUS! Simple as that. I hope the gentleman (Brother ) that was let go wins a BIG settlement against the BN as he will never be able to work there again, and he needs something to sustain him for the time being. I wouldn’t send my WORST enemy to work on ANY Class I as they are today; they have ruined one of the best jobs in the world.
    I am surprised Warren Buffet stands for this. He probably doesn’t know about it, because a good majority of RR managers are cowardly, ass kissing sychopants trying to claw their way to the top regardless of the risk to the public or their employees. Thanks for the great piece! This needs to hit the mainstream.
    Rick Bevan
    Locomotive Engineer, retired
    Denver, CO

  • http://www.sustainablelivingeconomics.com Frank Vassell

    Did Mr. Curtis Rookaird get his job back yet? What does this say to the rest of us trying to do a good job for our customers, our community, our environment, and working safely? Will we risk our jobs to work safely when we are told to do otherwise. I feel for the Rookairds and admire Mr. Mrs. Rookaird’s courage and pride. It is hard to lose a job and then lose the house of refuge as well when doing what is right.

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