More than 1,000 items can be considered defective on a locomotive, ranging from minor issues such as a lock on a bathroom door to higher impact issues like a high flange wheel, Union Pacific CEO Jim Vena told the Federal Railroad Administration on Monday.

Vena sent a letter to FRA Administrator Amit Bose, responding to concerns that twice the normal number of defects have recently been found on locomotives and railcars, including the cars and locomotives in North Platte’s Bailey Yard.

Vena said the company is awaiting a full report to understand the situation and take full corrective action.

Three days earlier, Bose notified Vena and other top UP executives that more than 70% of locomotives and about 20% of rail cars were found to be defective and UP was sluggish if not obstructive in making the repairs.

“We are eager to understand the types and categories of the defects cited, as well as the ratio of the percentage of defects,” Vena said. He also noted that 10% of the locomotives in Bailey Yard and about 1% of UP’s overall fleet have been checked in inspections during July and August.

Vena said a standard FRA audit report will be expected.

“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,” the letter says. “Our team has not received an audit close out, which will help us more quickly address the issues raised.”

Vena also said the company is now working to “identify potential gaps in our daily repair process.”

Bose said at the east departure yard in North Platte, inspectors found 22% of the rail cars were defective and the inspectors were often told by management to leave the area.

In reply, Vena said “it is very common at a location like North Platte to ask the inspection team to go to a different part of the yard if inspections are becoming impactful to service or placing the inspectors at risk. In this instance, North Platte has four yards where inspections can occur, and the FRA inspection team was respectfully asked to move to a different location.”

Bailey Yard workers have observed that FRA inspectors seem to prefer to work in random areas to get a better sample of cars and locomotives throughout the yard.

Responding to another FRA concern Vena also said recent layoffs have no correlation to the company’s ability to make mechanical repairs. He said the furloughs were the “result of lower business volumes, which result in equipment storage, and represent a fraction of a percent of all craft employees.”

(The percentage of UP locomotives that the FRA has inspected was corrected on Tuesday morning. -Editor)

The complete letter: Tap on pages to enlarge.

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