Union Pacific Fired Him Rather Than Heed His Warnings of Rail Dangers

"Time and again, Johnny Taylor’s duty to keep the rails safe from disaster conflicted with his employer’s desire to keep its trains running as fast and as frequently as possible, putting his career and family in peril."

"As he walked along the spongy, damp Louisiana marshland, scrutinizing tracks owned by one of the nation’s largest freight railroad companies, Robert Faaborg was not happy. The strips of wood that held the rails in place, called ties, were rotten. The screws that held them together were rusted. It was the sort of decay that could cause 18,000-ton trains to derail.

That evening in January 2014, the government inspector fired off an email to the two Union Pacific managers who had accompanied him on the ground. He wanted them to picture the death and destruction that could unfold if tanker cars filled with highly flammable Bakken crude oil teetered off the rickety tracks and careened toward nearby homes.

“I was a little surprised that a KEY route with such high volumes of hazardous materials had tie conditions like this,” Faaborg wrote. He asked them to think about the neighboring families they saw that day. “I was struck by a little girl’s voice calling out, ‘Daddy,’” the inspector wrote. “The family of that little girl is counting on us to keep her and them safe.”

Johnny Taylor was clear on what had to happen. As Union Pacific’s manager of track maintenance for a southern swath of the state including Baton Rouge, he knew he “owned” the 120-mile network of tracks and would get blamed for anything that went wrong. He also didn’t want anyone to get hurt on his watch."

Danelle Morton and Topher Sanders report for ProPublica with additional reporting by Jessica Lussenhop November. 18, 2023.

Source: ProPublica, 11/21/2023