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Thursday, July 3, 2014

Rail Workers Raise Doubts About Safety Culture As Oil Trains Roll On

BNSF Railway tank car 880362 in a train passin...
BNSF Railway tank car 880362 in a train passing Glen Haven, Wisconsin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
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SNOHOMISH, Wash. — Curtis Rookaird thinks BNSF Railway fired him because he took the time to test his train’s brakes.
The rail yard in Blaine, Washington, was on heightened security that day, he remembers, because of the 2010 Winter Olympics underway just across border in Vancouver, B.C.
The black, cylindrical tank cars held hazardous materials like propane, butane and carbon monoxide. The plan was to move the train just more than two miles through three public crossings and onto the main track. Rookaird and the other two crew members were convinced the train first needed a test of its air brakes to guard against a derailment.
But that kind of test can take hours. A BNSF trainmaster overheard Rookaird talking over the radio about the testing. He questioned if it was necessary. The crew was already behind schedule that day.
Rookaird stood firm.
“If you don’t have brakes the cars roll away from you,” Rookaird would later say. “You don’t have control of the train, you can crash into things.”
The trainmaster replied by saying he didn’t intend to argue. They’d talk about it later. Then he phoned their boss.
Minutes later, managers had a crew ready to replace Rookaird’s. Within a month, after Rookaird got federal investigators involved, he received a letter from BNSF informing him his employment had been terminated.
That account — based...
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