Union Pacific penalties surpass those of every railroad nationwide for the past two years.
The Oregonian/OregonLive obtained inspection records and reported that the Federal Railroad Agency fined Union Pacific over $7 million from 2014 through 2015.
An Oregon Department of Transportation inspection found repeated safety violations the day before Union Pacific train cars carrying crude oil derailed and caught fire on June 3.
The issues listed by state inspectors appear unrelated to the derailment.
Oregon Department of Transportation rail administrator Hal Gard said “there had been a history of violations that we thought were concerning.” He said inspectors were repeatedly visiting two yards.
“That was intensive and intentional to get attention and make a point that something’s going on here and the program needs to be tightened up,” Gard said.
Conductors left trains in Portland yards without setting breaks on multiple occasions, which an expert said could cause runaway trains.
“If we’re on an incline, which most track has, it can be imperceptible that you have movement,” said retired state rail safety inspector Michael Eyer. “They can start rolling. It’s very serious. You just can’t do that.”
Inspectors also found four instances since September when switches were left unlocked and made it possible for anyone to pull a lever and reroute a train.
“Someone could throw a switch and derail the whole train. That is a very serious issue,” Eyer said. “A train coming along would find itself at 40 mph suddenly running out of track or running into a parked train.”
A Union Pacific spokesman said the railroad stands by its safety record.
“Our safety record is very good and we stand by it,” Justin Jacobs said. “We take that obligation very seriously and we commit that to our customers and the communities in which we serve.”
Filed Under: Industry regulations