Does the Pressure to Keep Freight Moving Cause Unsafe Cars to Go Back on the Rails?
As a FELA attorney who has represented numerous carmen and car inspectors over the years, I realize that there really is a bit of a conflict of interest for the railroad supervisors as it relates to the inspection and repair of railroad cars. One of the jobs of a railroad carman is to go out and look at the cars and find defects which violate the Federal Railroad Administration standards for safety and to send any car that is broken or defective to the railroad repair shop to fix that car before letting it continue down the road.
However, the job of the railroad supervisors and the goal of the company is to keep the freight running as quickly as possible so they can charge customers to move the freight. Any bottlenecks or delays including those at a car repair shop are not in the companies’ best interests.
So the problem arises where a given car man or car inspector may think that a given car or set of cars needs to be repaired and is in violation of the company and federal rules but there are already too many cars in the rail shop. Under these circumstances there are incentives for the supervisors in the mechanical department who are in charge of the carmen and car inspectors to encourage them to declare a car safe when it is borderline and it’s not clear whether it is safe or isn’t. Often the carmen have pressure brought to bear on them by their supervisors for not shopping too many cars. The problem is that what ends up happening is the cars pass inspection just because of how backed up the repair shop is and not based upon what is really the fact and a fair interpretation of the safety rules.
When a car is sent on in a defective condition or a borderline defective condition it’s really just a way of passing the buck. Some other shop or other railroad may get that car and then they have to take their time to make it right. The cars which are owned by a given company are often moved by other companies so that even though the car may be owned by CSX it may be being shipped by Norfolk Southern for part of its trip.
This problem of passing cars which shouldn’t really pass inspection poses a risk of harm to railroad workers and the public. If a railroad worker ends up falling off of a car because the handhold or grab-irons that are part of the ladder system on a car are bent, he and his family are going to suffer the repercussions of his loss of work and his need for surgery. If the problem with the car causes some even worse disaster, it’s all of us who pay the price not the railroad and the individual supervisor who pressured the carman to let it go. If you or a loved one has been injured on the railroad, call us at 86.455.6657.