An investigative report conducted by CBC News revealed that CN Rail, a major Canadian railroad operator, has routinely underreported train derailments and misrepresented other data concerning its operations across the U.S. and Canada.
The investigation into CN Rail began after a former American employee filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the company, claiming that CN covered up derailments and misled regulators as well as customers about its efficiency by faking statistics out of its Memphis, TN rail yard.
The investigation then turned to other CN employees who confirmed the allegations, saying that managers across the company routinely instructed employees to not report minor derailments, realizing that such reports could slow down operations and harm the safety ranking of the operator. Employees were also ordered to misrepresent statistics concerning how long trains were left parked in rail yards, known as dwell times.
Though these dwell times do not concern the safety of CN operations, they do speak to an alarming problem with honest reporting. Employees said they were instructed to haul trains just outside of a rail yard so that it would be listed as having departed and marked in transit, then the train would be hauled back and left unattended for long stretches of time. This misrepresentation was used to convince commercial clients that the trains were operating on schedule.
The far more serious concern is that CN Rail was accused of routinely hiding train derailments. Employees who tried to report derailments said that more often than not, a process would begin to cover up these reports, unless the accident was serious enough that it could not be contained. The company would re-rail the car, perform a quick inspection and then put the train immediately back into service. This is not only dangerous, but against the law as all derailments should be formally reported to the Federal Railroad Administration.
The danger with this approach is that even in minor derailments the wheels of a rail car can be seriously damaged when they hit the ground. These wheels need to be carefully inspected any time a derailment occurs to ensure that the trains can operate as safely as possible, something that guarantees the safety of the crew and members of the public.
Even more worrisome is what some experts describe as the “culture of fear” created by CN officials which intimidates employees from reporting safety problems for fear of losing their jobs. Norfolk Southern has frequently been cited for similar actions, something we discussed in an earlier article about how the railroad operator achieved safety recognition based on intimidation and threats of retaliation directed against its own employees.
At CN Rail, employees say they were told how minor derailments can be costly because they slow down operations, costing the company money. Managers often warned warn employees about the punishments they might receive for reporting any accident that could result in a slow down. Rather than foster an open atmosphere where concerns can be raised, employees are instead scared to come forward, something that could result in harm to railroad employees and others.
Here’s a YouTube video where one of our experienced railroad accident/FELA injury attorneys discusses some common railroad claim agent tricks: