WASHINGTON, DC – The shop craft unions at Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) Railway are urgently calling upon the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) to initiate unannounced focus inspections on all locomotives and rail cars owned and leased by BNSF Railway, and immediately issue non-compliance orders requiring BNSF to fix all found defects before being permitted to use such equipment, citing concerns over numerous defects that are allegedly being ignored and neglected by BNSF management.

The letter comes on the heels of BNSF’s recent announcement of over 362 furloughs in the shop craft unions, further exacerbating concerns over safety and maintenance practices. The defects and recent extreme cuts to the workforce pose serious safety risks to railroad operations and personnel.

Many furloughed employees may be forced to accept positions with lower pay and fewer benefits, potentially disrupting their lives and livelihoods.

In a letter addressed to FRA Administrator Amit Bose, the shop craft unions at BNSF highlighted their ongoing efforts to address safety and maintenance issues within the railroad industry. The letter referenced a meeting held on December 19, 2023, during which the shop craft unions presented evidence of significant workforce reductions within the mechanical departments of Class I freight railroads, including a staggering 41% decrease in employees since 2015.

Reports received by the shop craft unions indicate that BNSF managers that have been under pressure to perform work without an adequate number of workers, may have instructed workers to release locomotives and rail cars for service that have not been adequately inspected or repaired, effectively disregarding federally mandated safety inspections and fabricate of inspection reports, purportedly as part of cost-cutting measures aimed at maximizing shareholder profits.

“BNSF’s actions represent a reckless disregard for the safety and integrity of our nation’s railways,” said the shop craft unions. “BNSF has recently admitted in public filings that they would not be in compliance with federally mandated safety inspections, and we continue to be informed that BNSF has numerous FRA defects on their locomotives and rail cars. There is no shortage of profits for BNSF, and there is no shortage of work to be performed on BNSF equipment. There is simply an obscene shortage of workers and disregard for people at BNSF. By prioritizing cost-cutting over safety, BNSF is placing its employees and the public at risk. In light of these developments, we have urged the FRA to take immediate action to ensure the safety of BNSF operations. Random audits and focus inspections are essential to holding BNSF accountable and preventing further compromises to safety.”

The shop craft unions at BNSF are calling upon the FRA to prioritize the safety of railroad workers and the integrity of railroad operations by promptly conducting inspections of BNSF locomotives and rail cars located at or in transit to all BNSF Locomotive Maintenance Inspection Terminals (LMITs).


The Shop Craft Unions are, in alphabetical order: The Brotherhood of Railroad Carmen Division, TCU/IAM (BRC), the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers (IAM) , the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers (IBB), the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), the National Conference of Fireman and Oilers, Local 32BJ/SEIU (NCFO), the International Association of Sheet Metal, Air, Rail and Transportation Workers Mechanical Department (SMART MD), the Transportation Communications Union (TCU) and the Transport Workers Union of America (TWU).

The Federal Railroad Administration’s Office of Railroad Safety issued the following bulletin on Dec. 20, 2022:

SUBJECT: Pre-Departure Inspections – Appendix D to 49 CFR Part 215 

The Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) is investigating a recent fatal accident when a train operating on the mainline struck a piece of angle iron protruding from a freight car on the adjacent main track. Based on FRA’s preliminary results from its ongoing investigation, the piece of angle iron appears to have been part of the freight car (not lading, but a repair to the carbody side top cord of a scrap metal gondola car) that was starting to dislodge from the carbody. It appears that the piece of angle iron was in this state when the car was pulled from the customer, moved to a yard, and then added to a different train on the main track. The angle iron, which was protruding into the foul of the adjacent track, pierced a locomotive cab window and fatally injured a member of the crew

The purpose of this Safety Bulletin, which is informal in nature, is to provide almost-immediate awareness to the industry that an accident or incident occurred resulting in a fatality or significant damage to property or the environment. Its purpose is to also provide the industry key information with which to brief or (re)train employees. As FRA completes its investigation, it may take additional actions with respect to this incident/accident. 

Specifically, in this Safety Bulletin, FRA requests that railroads review this Safety Bulletin with its employees to increase awareness of this hazardous condition that led to a fatal injury. FRA also reminds train crew members that when at locations where a person designated under § 215.11 is not on duty for the purpose of inspecting freight cars (such as in customer facilities), prior to pulling any cars and only when it is safe to do so, to perform a proper visual inspection of freight cars for any protruding objects that may foul an adjacent track from a railcar, and if observing such a condition to immediately report it. See Appendix D to 49 CFR Part 215, Pre-Departure Inspection Procedure (excerpted below). 

Appendix D to Part 215 – Pre-departure Inspection Procedure 

At each location where a freight car is placed in a train and a person designated under § 215.11 is not on duty for the purpose of inspecting freight cars, the freight car shall, as a minimum, be inspected for the imminently hazardous conditions listed below that are likely to cause an accident or casualty before the train arrives at its destination. These conditions are readily discoverable by a train crew member in the course of a customary inspection. 

1. Car body: 

(a) Leaning or listing to side. 

(b) Sagging downward. 

(c) Positioned improperly on truck. 

(d) Object dragging below. 

(e) Object extending from side. 

(f) Door insecurely attached. 

(g) Broken or missing safety appliance. 

(h) Lading leaking from a placarded hazardous material car. 

2. Insecure coupling. 

3. Overheated wheel or journal. 

4. Broken or extensively cracked wheel. 

5. Brake that fails to release. 

6. Any other apparent safety hazard likely to cause an accident or casualty before the train arrives at its destination. 

Issued: December 20, 2022 

The bulletin is available below in PDF form.