Federal inspectors recently found an alarming number of defects in Union Pacific’s (UP) locomotives and railcars. Inspectors made their findings at UP’s railyard in western Nebraska. According to details, the railroad was reluctant to reconcile the problem.

What Did Inspectors Find?

Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose stated that inspectors reported a 19.93% defect rate on rail cars and a 72.69% rate on locomotives. He included this statement in a letter that he sent to UP’s top three executives. Unfortunately, the letter did not specify what kind of defects inspectors found. But Bose did write to the executives that the defects represent a “significant risk to rail safety” on the Union Pacific railroad.

Bose also said in the letter that the “compliance of the rolling stock (freight cars and locomotives) on the UP network is poor, and UP was unwilling or unable to take steps to improve the condition of their equipment.”

Bose also questioned whether recent layoffs at UP left the company without enough manpower to complete any necessary repairs.

How Did UP Respond?

Despite the findings, UP spokeswoman Kristen South said that the railroad is committed to safety. According to South, “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.”

South also reported that recent layoffs did not pose any problems. She stated that UP has appropriate staffing levels with enough capacity to have “a buffer to allow for the natural ebb and flow nature of our business.” Note that recent layoffs involved 94 locomotive craft employees and that number represents a tiny fraction of the railroad’s workforce that numbers more than 30,000.

Union Pacific’s new CEO Jim Vena just took over the top spot at the railroad last month. Union Pacific has a network of 32,400 miles (52,000 kilometers) of track in 23 Western states.

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