The administrator of the Federal Railroad Administration sent a letter to Union Pacific last week blasting the rail line for not keeping up with safety concerns.
In a letter obtained by the Associated Press sent to Union Pacific leaders, Federal Railroad Administration chief Amit Bose claimed that the defect ratio of freight cars was 19.93%, and 72.69% for locomotives, which is twice the national average.
"I am writing this letter to express serious concern about specific and significant risk to rail safety on the Union Pacific Railroad," Bose wrote.
"It was clear throughout the focused inspection that UP did not take steps to improve the condition of their rolling stock as the defect ratio did not improve over time," Bose added.
Bose also claimed that the company furloughed 138 employees, including 94 automotive craft employees, which he said exacerbated the poor condition of the rolling stock. The company said these furloughs represented 4% of its craft employees, and are routine as rail volumes ebb and flow.
A spokesperson for Union Pacific said the company hopes to learn more from federal officials about the nature of recent inspections.
"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," the company said. "There is no correlation between recent furloughs and Union Pacific's ability to address mechanical repairs. We have the appropriate staffing for all crafts, and always leave a buffer to allow for the natural ebb and flow nature of our business. Finally, we have worked for years with FRA inspectors and respect the work they do. We have the same goal — safety."
According to FRA reporting data, Union Pacific has been involved in 250 accidents from January through June 2023. The accident data is on par with past years. The data shows that 68 of the accidents this year were caused by human factors.
Union Pacific returned a formal response to Bose late Monday.
"As we await the standard audit close-out documentation, our teams are already working to identify any potential gaps in our daily repair process. We plan to review those findings, as well as actions we're taking to close any identified gaps, during our October meeting. We take the FRA's concerns very seriously and look forward to meeting in person to discuss them," wrote Jim Vena, Union Pacific CEO.
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