217.370.8505 cory@bletislb.org

UP CEO Vena responds to FRA concerns over rolling stock safety

Union Pacific Railroad CEO Jim Vena yesterday responded to Federal Railroad Administrator Amit Bose’s concerns about the safety of UP’s rolling stock. Bose’s concerns stemmed from a Federal Railroad Administration audit this summer of the railroad’s mechanical operations, freight cars and locomotives.

“We take the concerns raised very seriously and are confident we have the people and practices in place to responsibly maintain our locomotive and car fleets,” Vena wrote in a Sept. 11 letter to Bose.

However, UP has not yet received an audit “close out” that specifically identifies the concerns raised in the audit conducted in July and August, he wrote.

“Typically, inspections by the FRA include a focused audit close out with clear findings and action steps, as well as a meeting to discuss any findings and mitigation approaches,” Vena said.

“While a more detailed response will be forthcoming, given the significance of your concerns, I wanted to provide a prompt response addressing the immediate actions we are taking and items we are evaluating,” his letter states.

In a Sept. 8 letter to UP’s top executives, Bose expressed “serious concern” about the safety of the Class I’s rolling stock. During the audit, FRA inspectors identified a “concerning number of locomotives and freight cars operating on the UP network with federal defects,” Bose’s letter states.

In his response, Vena emphasized that the railroad’s locomotive fleet is safe to operate. But, more than 1,000 items can be considered a “defect” on a locomotive, ranging from something less likely to impact the unit’s mechanical safety — such as the amnesty lock on a bathroom door — to higher impact items like a flange wheel, he noted.

“We are eager to understand the types and categories of the defects cited, as well as the ratio of the percentage of defects,” Vena’s letter states.

The number of locomotives inspected by the FRA represents 10% of those in North Platte, Nebraska, and about 1% of UP’s overall fleet, UP officials said.

Vena also noted that there is no correlation between recent furloughs and UP’s ability to address mechanical repairs. In his letter, Bose questioned whether the furloughs had anything to do with UP’s ability to fix the items identified in the audit, which occurred in the railroad’s North Platte rail yards.

“As we await the standard audit close-out documentation, our teams are already working to identify any potential gaps in our daily repair process,” Vena wrote.

The railroad will review those findings and act to close any gaps, he added.

“We take the FRA’s concerns very seriously and look forward to meeting in person to discuss them,” Vena wrote.

To read Vena’s entire letter to Bose, click here.