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Union Pacific, one of the largest railroads in the United States, faces accusations of obstructing the Federal Railroad Administration’s (FRA) safety assessment by coaching employees on how to respond to inquiries and suggesting potential disciplinary actions, according to federal regulators.

In a letter addressed to Union Pacific executives, Karl Alexy, the chief safety officer of the FRA, outlined concerns regarding widespread meddling across Union Pacific’s extensive network spanning 23 states. Allegedly, employees were coached to provide specific responses during safety culture interviews, leading to a suspension of the safety assessment by the FRA.

The agency initiated safety assessments of major railroads nationwide following a series of high-profile derailments, including Norfolk Southern’s incident in eastern Ohio in February 2023. The revelation of Union Pacific’s alleged interference may prompt lawmakers to take action on stalled railroad safety reforms.

Jared Cassity, the chief of safety at the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers’ Transportation Division, expressed concern over the allegations, highlighting the importance of honest assessments in ensuring safety. He emphasized that Union Pacific’s reported actions raise questions about potential safety cover-ups within the company.

In response, Union Pacific acknowledged the regulators’ concerns but stated that the issue was confined to one department. President Beth Whited assured the FRA that the company’s intent was to assist employees in preparing for interviews ethically and compliantly.

However, Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) condemned Union Pacific’s alleged interference as unacceptable, vowing to push for a vote on a bipartisan railroad safety bill. The proposed legislation aims to establish standards for trackside detectors and inspections to prevent derailments, among other changes.

While Union Pacific plans to conduct an internal safety assessment as suggested by the FRA, doubts remain about the accuracy of such surveys due to potential employee reluctance to speak out about safety concerns. Cassity highlighted a prevailing attitude of prioritizing freight movement at any cost, raising concerns about the likelihood of future derailments.

The allegations against Union Pacific underscore broader challenges in ensuring railroad safety and the need for transparent and effective regulatory oversight to protect workers and communities along railway routes.